[Ed. – No free lunch]
Last August, Denver Public Schools (DPS) unveiled a new school-lunch policy: It promised that all students would be given a full hot meal every day regardless of any outstanding debts. Under the old policy, students ineligible for the free- and reduced-price lunch program had been expected to pay for their lunch — or else, after enough “unsuccessful attempts” to get their families to pony up, they were given an “alternate lunch” (typically a sandwich or snack). In education circles, Denver earned hosannas for seeking to put an end to “lunch-shaming.”
Now, a year later, the check has come due. To the apparent surprise of everyone in K–12 schooling — but no one outside it — it turns out that there really is no such thing as a free lunch. Education news site Chalkbeat Colorado recently reported that debt from unpaid lunches exploded during the 2017–2018 school year. It grew more than 25-fold, to $356,000, up from $13,910 the year before. That amounts to about 900 unpaid lunches every day of the school year for the 92,000-student DPS. While some lunch debt is common nationwide, and some districts and even a few states have similar “lunch-shaming prevention” policies, Denver’s debt balance is exceptional.