NJ Assembly approves bill to address school lunch shaming and student meal debts

Following several controversies surrounding unpaid breakfast and lunch tabs at public schools, a measure to address practices used by New Jersey school districts concerning school meal debt was approved by the New Jersey Assembly this week.

If the Assembly bill is approved by the New Jersey Senate and signed by the governor, school boards would be required to set up a fund to accept donations to pay down student meal debt.

“There has been a lot of scrutiny in past months about the handling of student meal debt and I believe we’ve lost sight of the most integral part of this issue, student well-being,” said Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington), on of the sponsors of the bill. “Proper nutrition is essential to a child’s success in the classroom. It is also crucial to their social and emotional development,” she said. “Punishing or shaming them for debt before addressing the underlying cause with families does not enhance positive learning outcomes. It only reinforces harmful stigma. A school meal fund is a good way to ensure that no child will have to endure shaming or punishment for being unable to pay a lunch debt.”

Schools across the nation are accepting donations to help eliminate school meal debt. In Washington, an eight-year-old raised $4,000 selling $5 handmade key chains to erase debt in his school and six others. A yogurt company paid off $50,000 of Rhode Island’s lunch debt, and recently a 49’ers football player donated over $7,000 to schools in Santa Clara, Calif. 

State officials said creating school meal funds would increase the capacity to feed children across the state and strengthen school meal program funding efforts by allowing people to make donations.