Here’s how you can help other Austin-area schools with lunch debt

What a week it’s been in the school lunch debt department. On Monday, we told you about AISD’s crowdfunding effort to help students who have fallen behind on their lunch accounts.

By Tuesday, you all had donated more than $10,000, which surpassed the district’s initial goal.

On Wednesday, the donation total had surpassed $18,000, and AISD was able to use your donations to clear the outstanding balances of about 3,500 students.

The school lunch at Sanchez Elementary often includes an entree salad, but if an elementary student runs out of money in his or her account, the meal options are reduced to a courtesy meal of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

No matter how you look at it, that’s pretty amazing, but what about other students in Central Texas who are eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch every day because they can’t pay their lunch debts?

I reached out to eight area school districts to find out how they handle student debt and how readers can donate if they’d like to help pay it off.

Here’s what they said:

Hays: Hays Consolidated Independent School District accumulates between about $10,000 and $20,000 unpaid lunch balances. Students get a $10 grace period to give people time to get their balances paid while the student still gets the regular meal options. After that, the student receives the alternative meal, a sandwich, unlimited salad and a choice of a hot vegetable from the serving line. From a rep: “Currently, we do not have a system for people to donate money to pay of lunch balances, but we have had several people reach out to find out how they can donate. We are looking at the logistics and hope to be able to offer a donation option soon.”

Eanes: In one of the wealthiest school districts in Central Texas, student lunch debt still accrues after a student has had two regular meals in the grace period (and free alternative meals after that), but at the end of the year, the debts are cleared, either by payment from the families or, in a kind gesture, the parents of graduating seniors. If you’d like to contribute, you can drop off money at any Eanes school or by check mailed to Child Nutrition office, 601 Camp Craft Road, Austin TX 78746.

Manor: With a free/reduced lunch population of 80 percent, the Manor school district doesn’t have a high lunch debt number because many of the students receive the meal for free or at a lower cost already. If an account hits zero, students can charge two meals, and then they get an alternative meal, such as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and milk, according to a school rep. He also pointed out that Manor ISD provides an optional free breakfast to every student in the district every day, all year long, and that they are crowdfunding a number of other school projects and programs.

Round Rock: In Round Rock, students can charge two meals after they run out of money in their account, and then after that, they received a cheese sandwich and milk for 80 cents, which continues to accrue with each meal. To help pay off some of those balances, you can stop by a school to write a check or send one to the administration office, 16255 Great Oaks Dr, Suite 100, Round Rock, TX, 78681.

Elgin: The past two schools years have ended with between $2,000 and $3,000 in student debt in Elgin, spread among several hundred students. From a rep: “EISD allows the student to charge their meal up to three days, and after that they are given a peanut butter or cheese sandwich and milk at no cost.” If you’d like to help offset that annual debt that the district has to absorb, you can mail a check to the administration office: 1002 N. Avenue C, Elgin, TX, 78621.

Georgetown: Georgetown has seen an increase in school lunch debt, in part, because of HB 3562, which passed in 2014 and requires districts to provide a grace period where they continue to charge for the meals while attempting to collect the accrued balance. A rep said this has cause their cumulative debt to increase from $3,000 to $21,000. They offer a courtesy meal of a cheese sandwich and milk, for which the student is charged $0.75.  The rep said that Office Depot employees have raised money to help pay off students’ negative balances at three Georgetown schools.

Lake Travis: Unpaid lunch debt isn’t a big deal in Lake Travis ISD, which finished last year’s school year with $154.93 in unpaid debt, according to a school rep. They have a lower number of free/reduced students than many area districts, but about 80 percent of students use the cafeteria services in some way, which is high. I chatted with Traci Miller, the director of the district’s food services department, and she credits that to the appealing a la carte choices and how they track “full meals” versus snacks or other add-ons that students might buy in the cafeteria line.

Bastrop: In Bastrop, students can charge up to $5 in meals, but after that, they get an alternative meal that is free. No one has contacted the school about paying off lingering student debt, according to a district rep, but any such offers would be welcome. You can mail checks to 906 Farm Street, Bastrop, TX 78602.

Live in San Antonio? A few media outlets there picked up on the success of this week’s donations and found out how you can help.


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