Schools Left to Come Up with Lunch Money During Shutdown

As Congress continues to seek a budget resolution, school lunch and food programs at local schools could be cut.

Funding for the free and reduced meal programs at public schools is now in question.

A slice of pizza and a scoop of fruit were among items dished out at Cavanaugh Elementary Wednesday (Oct. 2). But soon that meal could start costing the district money out of its own pocket until a budget agreement can be met and the shutdown is lifted in Washington, D.C.

“It’s very frustrating to us because if we did business like they’re doing business, we’d be out of business,” said Benny Gooden, superintendent of Fort Smith Public Schools. “The members of Congress need to grow up and solve the problem because we can’t continue to do our business and serve the children who have needs.”

In a matter of days, federal funding for public schools’ free and reduced meal program could be cut off due to the budget shutdown. The schools are left to front the money or come up with another plan to get the kids fed.

“Here in Fort Smith that’s a big deal,” Gooden said. “We have over 70 percent of our students that qualify for free or reduced price meals, and those funds, and much as they are passed through the state are secure for a few days. And how many is a few days? None of us really knows.”

Gooden said that somehow they will figure out a way to make sure the kids are fed even if the district has to look at cutting the budget in other places. But teachers say it’s a lot for both the schools and the parents to deal with.

“We have to understand that these parents are working and doing the best that they can already and so to even think that we would have to put this on their plate to think about, I think it’s heartbreaking to think that this is the situation we’re facing,” said teacher and parent LaToya Sheperd.

In Northwest Arkansas, Fayetteville Public Schools were notified by the state Wednesday that meals served before October 1 will be reimbursed those after that date are expected to be reimbursed.


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