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Federal law: School lunch prices will increase 15 cents next school year

Campbell Turner, 8, and Matt Stein, 7, both second graders in Michelle Rathbone's class at Kensington Elementary, take time for some smiles during their lunch at school.

Beginning next school year, parents will pay 15 cents more for their child to eat a Union County Public Schools lunch following a federal mandate that requires a price increase.

"In these tough economic times, an increase in the cost of school meals is not something I would have asked for," said Child Nutrition Director Denise Lamar.

Although she is not happy about the timing of the mandated increase, she understands the need.

"For us to provide healthier meals, we can't afford to keep the price of lunches as low as they are," she said. "We have to be able to generate revenue to add healthier menu choices."

All school lunches, therefore, are increasing 15 cents. This means beginning July 1, 2011, elementary school lunches will increase to $1.95 while middle and high school lunches will cost $2.05.

The UCPS Child Nutrition Program is an enterprise fund meaning it is self-supported and not funded by the school system. The students who buy school meals generate the majority of its income, while the federal government's subsidies equate to about 40 percent of the program's revenue.

The lunch increase stems from a law passed last fall called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (Sec. 205). It stipulates that beginning July 1, 2011, lunches will increase to help offset the difference between what students pay and the actual cost to provide the lunches.

"Our meals cost us more to produce than we're now taking in," Lamar said. "That's why we sell the cookies, water and snacks. We use that money to help subsidize the cost of meals we provide."

School lunch
Jessica Witmore, 8, a second grader in Michelle Rathbone's class at Kensington Elementary School, enjoys her lunch at school.

As the cost of food increases, Lamar said it has become more of a challenge to offer healthy meals, therefore, the government is requiring school nutrition programs to increase the cost being charged to compensate. "Unless they change the law, the increases will happen for the next several years," Lamar said.

Unfortunately, the monetary benefits from the price increases won't carry quite the punch they could provide because of the increases in gas prices, which will most likely lead to increased costs of food.

"A lot of that 15 cents increase that we're going to get is actually going to be absorbed by these increased costs," Lamar said. "We're not going to gain much because once transportation prices go up, food prices will shoot up."

Lamar said in spite of increases in lunch prices, UCPS still offers school breakfasts and lunches to students at one of the lowest rates in the 10-counties that comprise Region Six. School systems in Region Six are Union, Anson, Cabarrus, Cleveland, Gaston, Lincoln, and Stanly county schools, Kannapolis City Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

The least expensive school lunches are offered in Cleveland County Schools with elementary school lunches costing $1.45 and middle and high school lunches costing $1.55. The most expensive meals are in Stanly County Schools, with elementary lunches costing $2.25 and middle and high lunches costing $2.35.

The region's average school lunch in the elementary school is $1.97 and $2.08 in the middle and high schools. This compared to the price of an elementary school lunch in Union County Public Schools, which costs students $1.80 and a middle and high school lunch, which costs students $1.90.

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Photos by: Arthur Rogers, Visual Communications Coordinator
Posted: Apr 06, 2011 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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