SANTA FE, N.M. – A small New Mexico charter school is dropping out of the National School Lunch Program because officials contend government subsidies that come with participation aren’t enough to cover expenses.
Monte del Sol Head Learner Robert Jessen told the Santa Fe New Mexican the school recently notified parents it can no longer afford to cover the roughly $40,000 a year cost to provide free- and reduced-price lunches for needy students through the National School Lunch Program.
“We receive $3 from the federal government for each free lunch we serve,” he wrote to parents last month. “However, it costs more to serve that lunch. For the last several years the school has been able to pay the difference, but this year we can not.”
Monte del Sol joins hundreds of other schools across the nation that have dropped out of the National School Lunch Program since the U.S. Department of Agriculture imposed strict regulations on calories, sugar, fat, sodium, whole grains, fruits and vegetables at the behest of first lady Michelle Obama in 2012, EAGnews reports.
Many of the schools have cited increased costs associated with the regulations and declining cafeteria revenues because students refuse to eat the less appetizing offerings. In many cases, forgoing the federal subsidies to serve students foods they will buy and eat was the motivating factor.
The conservative House Freedom Caucus is now calling on President-elect Donald Trump to “rethink” the federal school food restrictions within the first 100 days from taking office, EAGnews reports.
Santa Fe Public Schools superintendent Veronica Garcia told the New Mexican “economies of a scale play a role” in whether it makes financial sense for schools to participate in the federal food program.
In the public school district, more than 75 percent of students qualify for subsides, so the program pays for itself. At Monte del Sol, less than half of the students who qualify participate in the program – roughly 80 to 90 students out of about 200 who qualify.
Participation in the program is mixed at other private and charter schools in the area, with some contracting with private vendors to serve students higher quality meals at a higher price.
Patricia Gipson, chairman of the state’s Public Education Commission, said Monte del Sol isn’t the only charter school that can’t afford to offer the federal subsidized free- and reduced-price lunches.
“It’s something that many of the schools would like to offer, but because of the challenges, they are not able to,” she said.
Parent Ronald Ortiz, whose two sons attend Monte del Sol, wrote in to the New Mexican to complain about the change.
“I can’t imagine the hardships that this will create for all the students who attend Monte del Sol,” he wrote in an email.
Jessen said that before the school joined the federal program in 2010 it offered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to low-income students, KOB reports.
He’s now calling on parents to implement a similar strategy moving forward.
“We are trying to come up with creative ideas to assist those for whom this will be difficult,” he wrote to parents. “If any of you have some good ideas, please let me know.”
“It might create a small hardship,” Jessen said, but “there’s also good, old-fashioned sack lunches.”
Monte del Sol is expected to request permission to drop the National School Lunch Program from the Public Education Commission that oversees charter schools at a meeting later this month.