💡 Get Philly smart 💡
with BP’s free daily newsletter

Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

Pennsylvania lawmakers in both the House and the Senate are pushing to end lunch shaming. This refers to in-school policies for students who’ve fallen behind on their lunch payments to replace their hot lunches with alternative food, or take away their lunch entirely. Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia, held a press conference around the issue this week. Her bill, introduced last month, would require that schools give children reimbursable meals, unless a guardian permits the school to skip providing them food. The bill also bans assigning kids chores when they owe or giving these students hand stamps or wrist bands to denote their lunch debt.

Last September, a Washington County elementary school cafeteria worker resigned over her school district’s lunch policy. She claimed that she was ordered to take hot meals away from two children. The school district’s superintendent disputed her claims. Still, the district did have a new policy that if a student owed $25 or more, to replace hot lunches with sandwiches for grades K-6, and to withhold lunch entirely for students older than that.

“It sat in my head for a while,” Bullock told Billy Penn. “I actually thought it was just an isolated incident, but I kept hearing continuous stories.”

Bullock was inspired by the national groundswell around the issue. A May CNN Money report delved into lunch shaming practices. The Anti-Lunch Shaming Act was proposed in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate last month. Both bills are currently in committee. Sen. Bob Casey is a co-sponsor on the Senate bill.

Bullock said many of the responses she’s received have come from “adults recalling that it happened to them 20, 30 years ago, and being surprised that it’s happening today.” She hasn’t heard any recent stories out of Philly, which she credits to Philadelphia opting in to the Community Eligibility Provision. That’s a federal program that covers meals for all students in schools and school districts where 40 percent or more of pupils qualify for free lunch. Champions of the program say it helps fight hunger, but also that it allows school districts to skip loads of paperwork, since they wouldn’t have to focus on individual free-meal applications.

Bullock suspects that the number of school districts in Pennsylvania that haven’t opted in is alarmingly high. CEP provides funding for local education agencies, which include school districts, but also charter companies. Pennsylvania has almost 850 of them. Nonpublic schools, following requirements from the state Department of Education’s Food and Nutrition Division, are able to apply as well. There are nearly 300 eligible LEAs in Pennsylvania. Half aren’t participating in the program.

Billy Penn analyzed data from the state Department of Education for the coming school year. There are 148 eligible LEAs and private education providers across the state that aren’t receiving the funds. These institutions have a total enrollment of nearly 215,000 students. Another 225 non-participating LEAs are near-eligible. The deadline for CEP applications is June 30. Here is a list of districts that haven’t opted in:

[table id=”74″ responsive=”scroll” alternating_row_colors=”empty” row_hover=”empty” table_head=”empty” first_column_th=”empty” table_foot=”empty” print_name=”empty” print_name_position=”empty” print_description=”empty” print_description_position=”empty” use_datatables=”empty” /]

State Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny,  also introduced a bill against lunch shaming last month. Bullock said she’s not pushing this bill for Philadelphia’s sake, but really for the rest of the state. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is also already participating in the program. School administrators have defended lunch-shaming policies as a means to improve debt collection in districts that short on funds. Bullock said that response speaks to a larger issue.

“If our school districts are cash-strapped enough where they’re implementing these kinds of tactics around lunch money,” she said, “we need to make sure our schools are well funded in the first place.”

Cassie Owens is a reporter/curator for BillyPenn.com. She was assistant editor at Next City and has contributed to Philadelphia City Paper, Metro, the Jewish Daily Forward, The Islamic...