Minneapolis parents who may be wondering about the district's policy for serving food to students whose parents fall behind on school lunch seem to have little cause for concern despite the controversy about dumped food trays in other districts.
First, Minneapolis provides a school breakfast for every student who wants one, regardless of parent income. That includes more than 12,000 students who aren't eligible for subsidized lunches.
Second, Minneapolis not only provides a free lunch to the nearly 22,000 students whose family incomes are low enough, but it also doesn't charge another 1,713 who qualify for reduced-price lunch. They'd otherwise pay 40 cents a day, but the district decided in 2011 to cover that. The projected cost this year is about $208,000.
Moreover, all students get a standard meal, regardless of whether their family is behind on paying, according to Bertrand Weber, who heads district food programs. That means no dumping of trays for students whose parents owe money. St. Paul diverts students whose families owe at least $25 to a cheese sandwich and carton of milk, but only after several efforts to get the parents to pay or apply for free- or reduced-lunch status.
Minneapolis efforts were praised by Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. "Minneapolis is the gold standard, They don’t turn away kids. They provide hot lunches,” she said this week, singling out Weber's efforts to improve nutrition, appeal to students and lunch participation.
The issue of getting lunches to students regardless of income is personal for Cassellius, who said she was eligible during most of her youth living in the Glendale housing project in Prospect Park. “A lot of my meals were provided by schools and provided by the local park board. I have a really emotional reaction to this," she said.
Weber has the evidence to show that his department is absorbing the cost of continuing unpaid meals. There's a nearly $130,000 deficit to date for meal costs incurred by students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch before their families actually filled out the necessary application. For full-price students, the deficit run up so far is more than $132,000.
(Above: Washburn students got to try out new, more-varied school lunches ahead of other schools in 2012. Left: Bertrand Weber)