Elizabeth Warren calls NJ school district lunch debt plan ‘cruel’
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has weighed in on the Cherry Hill school lunch "shaming" issue, calling the township's latest plan "cruel and punitive."
On Twitter Monday, Warren said that "every kid needs and deserves a nutritious meal in order to learn at school."
Warren also linked to a story about the Cherry Hill Board of Education's recent vote to change the public district's policy to one that bans students with lunch debts of $40 or more from certain extra-curricular activities, like prom, class trips or buying a yearbook.
The Cherry Hill lunch issue also caught the attention of comedian D.L. Hughley, who shared a link to an article on Instagram, while writing: "I’m disgusted any and every time I see one of these posts about 'School Lunch DEBT'!! People are barely making it with BOTH parents working in some cases and the guidelines for free or reduced lunch are not on par with living standards. So some of these people may be choosing whether to TRY and keep the lights on, or pay for medications, or pay for their child’s 'Lunch Debt'.... this doesn’t sound 'GREAT' to me!"
The township district policy previously had limited students whose debts exceeded $10 to tuna sandwiches for lunch.
Under the new plan, students whose accounts are behind would be able to eat lunch from the standard meal choice of the day, but would not be able to choose from other available a la carte options.
The Cherry Hill school board unanimously voted Oct. 15 to amend its lunch debt policy, which also has parent notifications required as debt is accrued from $10 to $25, and an in-person meeting set after $75.
The next day, state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, and state Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, announced plans to introduce legislation, which would require the state to pay the difference between federal allocations and the total cost of reduced price breakfast or lunch.
Under the bill, which would earmark $4.5 million for the program, no public school student who is eligible for reduced price breakfast or lunch would be required to pay for his or her meal, according to a written press release.
Cherry Hill schools Superintendent Joseph Meloche previously has said that the ongoing school lunch debt issue is a complex one.
"Simply erasing the debt that exists does not solve the problem, as has been demonstrated by the $25,000 in debt that was erased during the summer of 2017 and has since accrued again to $18,000. Simply erasing the debt does not help those who need support and compassion and meals through the Free & Reduced Meal Programs. Simply erasing the debt does not address the many families with financial means who have just chosen not to pay what is owed," Meloche wrote in an August letter outlining the controversial community issue.
In her same tweet, Warren said: "My plan will push to cancel student breakfast and lunch debt and increase funding to school meals programs so all students can get a nutritious meal."
California recently made it law that all public school students receive a state-funded meal of their choice, even if their parent or guardian has unpaid meal fees.