During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government provided free breakfast and lunch to all students. That program has ended for the 2022-2023 school year. By December 2022, the Sioux Falls School District had amassed more than $106,000 in unpaid student lunch debt.
In an effort to offset unpaid meal balances, the Education Foundation Board of Directors allocated $10,000 to support this effort. The lunch program is a standalone initiative, and when there is a deficit, districts have to reallocate money from the general fund to cover the outstanding balance. That, in turn, affects how much money is available for teacher salaries and classroom expenses.
There are numerous reasons that have contributed to the largest deficit the district has recorded. Some families who received free and reduced lunches in the past no longer qualify. Others have not completed the paperwork. Some children had accumulated a negative balance before their parents applied for assistance.
More than 40 percent of the district’s students qualify for free and reduced meals. If students reach a certain threshold for a negative meal balance, they will be given an alternate meal that conforms with USDA guidelines. The district has no plans to deny a meal to any student.