Half of eligible PA public school agencies haven’t opted into free lunches

Schools shame kids who fall behind on lunch fees, but districts aren’t opting into a federal program.

Cassie Owens, Reporter/Curator

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:

LEA namePercentage of students who qualify for free lunch Total Number of Schools in Participating, Eligible, and Near-Eligible LEAs Total Student Enrollment in Participating and Eligible LEAs
TOTALS449 214,770
Altoona Area School District60.27%10 7,383
Antietam School District42.62%3 1,101
Apollo-Ridge School District42.19%2 1,216
Austin Area School District44.50%1209
Beaver Valley IU 2751.28%1117
Bellefonte Area School District44.80%1375
Bensalem Township School District40.81%8 5,862
Berwick Area School District47.49%4 2,653
Bethesda Ch Hm Luth S S76.29%197
Bethlehem Area School District55.13%15 10,108
Bethlehem AVTS40.36%1 1,385
Big Spring School District42.03%169
Blairsville-Saltsburg School District40.96%3968
Blessed Sacrament School66.67%196
Bradford Area School District51.52%4 2,558
Bristol Borough School District50.39%2 1,425
Bristol Township School District45.11%6 6,430
Cameron County School District40.16%2578
Capital Area IU 1546.67%1120
Carbondale Area School District52.64%2 1,691
Carlisle Area School District42.88%3867
Carmichaels Area School District42.88%3 1,080
Catasauqua Area School District42.81%3 1,396
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Hbg Pa Inc56.25%196
Center For Student Learning CS52.74%1146
Central Dauphin School District50.27%10 5,361
Charleroi School District41.21%2 1,524
Charter High School For Architecture & Design59.55%1623
Chester County Family Academy CS70.37%1108
Chester County IU 2448.74%3991
Chestnut Ridge School District40.61%3 1,571
City Charter High School46.98%1630
Claysburg Kimmel School District43.25%2849
Clearfield Area School District45.07%2 2,285
Coatesville Area School District48.49%11 6,361
Columbia-Montour AVTS40.73%1631
Conrad Weiser Area School District54.75%2551
Corry Area School District41.83%3 2,137
Crawford Central School District48.93%6 2,837
CTC of Lackawanna County50.08%1643
Daniel Boone Area School District44.80%2334
Danville Area School District59.52%2658
Delaware County IU 2573.19%372
Dubois Area School District46.76%9 3,575
Dunmore School District55.32%3966
Education Center at DT Watson40.23%1261
Elwyn Inc63.56%1376
Everett Area School District41.35%3 1,377
Ferndale Area School District46.43%2714
First Philadelphia Preparatory CS60.02%2 1,854
Forbes Road Career & Technical Center45.14%1370
Franklin Area School District43.69%4 1,949
Frederick Douglass Mastery CS86.14%1765
Freedom Area School District45.53%1492
Galeton Area School District43.70%1357
Garnet Valley School District61.90%142
Gillingham CS57.53%1219
Glade Run Lutheran Services51.98%1227
Greater Latrobe School District43.09%1724
Greater Nanticoke Area School District53.62%5 2,288
Green Tree School49.19%1124
Greensburg Salem School District45.84%7 2,986
Greenville Area School District41.42%3 1,318
Hanover Public School District50.09%5 1,829
Harrisburg Catholic Elementary Sch (Formerly Holy Family School)64.79%2204
Homer-Center School District40.97%2888
Independence CS West72.76%1301
Jamestown Area School District40.53%2505
Jefferson County-Dubois AVTS50.65%1385
Keystone Central School District47.13%9 3,985
Kidspeace National Centers68.38%2179
La Academia: The Partnership CS77.99%1209
Laurel Highlands School District49.69%6 3,003
Lawrence County Career & Technical Center50.00%1404
Ligonier Valley School District41.89%2596
Littlestown Area School District40.00%15
Lower Dauphin School District44.46%2255
Marple Newtown School District40.38%1104
Mcguire Memorial School65.15%166
Mechanicsburg Area School District40.10%4 1,096
Mid Valley School District41.17%2 1,800
Middletown Area School District45.50%4 1,894
Midland Borough School District40.15%2818
Montessori Regional CS44.65%1318
Moon Area School District46.15%1195
Morrisville Borough School District41.24%3860
Mount Carmel Area School District44.41%3 1,507
Mount Pleasant Area School District41.61%3716
North Penn School District40.17%5 1,920
North Star School District41.40%3 1,165
Northern Potter School District43.32%2520
Northern Tioga School District45.96%4 2,127
Northwestern School District47.22%3 1,390
Penn Hills School District47.79%3 3,618
Penns Manor Area School District40.12%2869
Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District40.85%4 1,718
Pocono Mountain School District41.88%8 7,785
Port Allegany School District48.35%3901
Pottsville Area School District50.74%3 2,738
Propel CS - Homestead52.21%11 3,677
Red Lion Area School District41.56%6 1,594
Ridley School District42.34%7 3,080
Riverside School District43.64%3 1,515
Riverview School District44.29%2644
Saint Clair Area School District49.45%1639
Saint Maria Goretti (formerly Immaculate Conception)41.18%1204
Schuylkill Technology Centers47.35%2343
Shade-Central City School District40.03%2497
Shamokin Area School District53.70%5 2,292
Sharon City School District69.97%4 2,065
Shikellamy School District43.33%8 3,023
Shiloh Christian Academy51.85%1135
Somerset Area School District41.13%2880
Souderton Area School District41.06%2449
South Williamsport Area School District44.17%3704
Southeastern Greene School District40.88%2628
Southmoreland School District40.11%4 1,879
St James School65.08%163
St Margaret School49.51%1305
St Peter School58.87%1282
Sugar Valley Rural CS40.56%1461
Susquehanna Community School District41.98%2795
Tacony Academy CS51.39%2 1,078
Towanda Area School District40.72%4 1,562
Trinity Academy47.89%1190
Trinity Area School District44.15%2741
Turkeyfoot Valley Area School District50.29%1346
Tussey Mountain School District45.02%5997
Union School District45.09%3564
Union Area School District40.73%2704
United School District40.58%1552
Upper Darby School District47.14%9 8,748
Upper Merion Area School District53.54%2443
Valley Grove School District41.38%2953
Warren County School District42.03%8 3,852
Watson Institute Friendship Academy (formerly Craig Academy)65.19%1135
Wesley Spectrum Services (formerly Wesley Institute, Inc)44.50%2201
West Side AVTS55.96%1520
West York Area School District41.04%5 2,994
Western Pa School For Deaf40.14%2235
William Penn School District57.89%10 5,089
Williams Valley School District40.76%2 1,012
Williamsport Area School District58.10%10 5,055
Wilson Area School District42.41%4 1,983
Wissahickon CS56.39%2974
Wyoming Valley West School District47.25%7 4,731
York Academy Regional CS49.10%1611
Young Scholars of Western Pennsylvania CS50.84%1297

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.”