Picture of salad bar options

Hutchinson provides same school lunches to all kids, regardless of payment — a good call

Dan Deming

Special to The Hutchinson News

October 29, 2023

Hutchinson Public Schools are among 10 Kansas school districts that have a written policy and practice of serving the same school lunches and breakfasts to students whose parents are behind on their lunch charges as students of parents who are paying either the full or reduced-price lunch charges. 

In other words, there is no difference in lunches served to any USD 308 student, regardless of their parents' ability or willingness to pay. Amazingly, according to an Appleseed Foundation survey, 171 districts serve an alternative, lesser quality meal to students whose parents are behind on payment  and 105 districts have no written policy.

Hutchinson schools are taking the high road, as opposed to a shocking number of others who don't, and not subjecting their youngsters to stigmatization by relegating them to eat an alternative cold sandwich or peanut butter and crackers.

Changes must be made in the big majority (171) of jurisdictions (there are 287 districts and 1,305 schools) where lesser quality alternative meals are served or 105 districts with no written policy on feeding school lunch debtors' children or they refused to provide information. We would hope the five other Reno County districts have similar policies to USD 308, but we're not sure.

This most interesting and alarming information stems from a recent report by the Kansas Appleseed Foundation for Law and Justice and a well-written article written by Wichita Eagle columnist Dion Lefler, who continues to do a wealth of important journalism to let readers know what's happening. Lefler noted "Appleseed found several districts where children of debtors have to make a walk of shame to get their unappealing alternative lunch at the principals' office"

Another school has an alternative lunch delivered to the classroom where students eat away from their peers. As Lefler notes: "Needless to say children of the alternative lunch crowd are stigmatized by the schools and their peers. It's not a long leap to assume they'll have less enthusiasm for learning and probably wake up every morning dreading everything about going to school ... daily humiliation does that to kids."

$55,000 is the threshold for reduced-price lunches, for which most Hutchinson USD 308 students are charged since the pandemic ended (the national school lunch program provided federal funds for all students regardless of income during COVID-19). 

Kansas school meal debt has increased nearly six times in recent years, soaring from $4.45 million to $23.5 million.  

Hutchinson had a meal deficit of $4,300 last school year but didn't turn to general tax funds to make up the difference as many if not most Kansas districts do. USD 308, which encourages parents to apply for free or reduced meals, turned to parents and other businesses, organizations and church donations to bring the account into balance.  

That's the way it should work in virtually every Kansas school district, and it's encouraging to know Hutchinson is among the few that are doing it right.

Dan Deming, former general manager of Hutchinson radio station KWBW and former Reno County Commissioner, can be reached at 620-960-6733 or dan.deming2@gmail.com.