An increasing number of school districts in Pennsylvania are turning to collection agencies to pursue payment of debts for school meals, writes Jan Murphy for the Harrisburg Patriot-News.
While foodservice operations in schools are meant to be self-supporting enterprises, this is usually not the case. According to a recently released national School Nutrition Trends Report, three quarters of the 812 districts that responded to the survey reported having student meal debt.
The report also showed the amount of debt is rising, going from a median of between $2,000-$2,500 four years ago to around $3,400 last year.
Before contacting a collection agency, districts first try to pursue the unpaid bills themselves, using repeated notifications and sharing information on the government-subsidized free and reduced-price lunch program. However, districts have found that students with negative balances often come from families with means.
If there is no response to any of the notifications, a collection agency gets involved. In the majority of cases, families contacted by agencies are put on a payment plan. Some choose to pay off their debt in full.
“We had to do something,” said Lower Dauphin School District spokesman Jim Hazen.
Read more in the Harrisburg Patriot-News here.