June 7, 2017

School meal price policy FAQs

The Ames Community School Board on June 5, 2017 carved into a separate policy its procedures for dealing with unpaid meal account balances, which had been in place since 2015. However, the Board plans to revisit the policy to find a long-term solution. Watch this page for updates.


Why is the School Board acting on an Unpaid Meal Policy?  

The USDA is requiring all school districts nationwide to have a policy in place by July 1, 2017 that details the procedures for unpaid meals. The Board approved unpaid meal procedures in June 2015 as part of another policy after the school district began to run large lunch account deficits, including $109,473 in the 2015 fiscal year. Since then, the negligent balances have fallen by more than $60,000. The Board drafted a separate policy in 2017 to meet the new USDA requirements. On June 5, 2017, the Board approved Policy 710.4 Meal & Snack Charges.

How do families know if they qualify for free or reduced school meal?

The district provides access to the application for free or reduced price school meals each year with other annual notices, and to all new families who enroll students in the district. When applications are processed, the district notifies families about their qualification status.  Income guidelines are established by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Students who qualify for reduced meals are charged the difference between the federal reimbursement for free meals and reduced meals, which is currently 40 cents.

To determine the price a school district must charge students don’t qualify for free or reduced price school meals, the USDA has established a formula through its Paid Lunch Equity Tool.

How do families know if their child’s lunch balance is low?

The district sends a weekly notice by email or regular mail to families when a student’s account reaches a positive balance of $25 or less.

What happens if students who don’t qualify for free meals don’t have money in their meal accounts?

Under the policy that has been in place since 2015, if a student’s account balance reaches negative $25, the student isn’t permitted to charge further meals, extra milk or a la carte items until the negative balance is paid.  

Elementary students who do not qualify for free meals and whose account balances are negative $25 may pay for their meal or receive an alternative meal at no cost. To prevent overt identification of students with insufficient funds to pay for their meal, the alternative meal consists of a sunbutter sandwich, unlimited fruits and vegetables, and choice of milk,  which are always offered as  menu choices at elementary schools. Middle school and high school students who do not qualify for free meals and whose account balances are negative $25 must pay to receive a meal, milk or ala carte items.

The Board is considering changes to these procedures. Watch this page for updates.

What if I can’t pay all my balance at once?  

The District encourages parents to contact Business Office at 515-268-6646 to set up a payment plan that will allow students to continue to charge meals to their account.

Does the District send delinquent accounts to collection agencies?

The District sends delinquent accounts to collection agencies when the account balance reaches negative $25.  

Why doesn’t the Ames Community School District subsidize its school meal program?

Unlike some other states, it is illegal in Iowa to subsidize the school lunch program using the general fund, which is the budget fund that covers staffing and programming for instruction. The federal program also doesn’t allow federal funds to subsidize students who do not qualify for free meals.

Some school districts offer free meals to all students. Why  doesn’t the Ames Community School District offer free meals to all students?

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas. A key provision of The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA, Public Law 111-296; December 13, 2010), CEP allows the nation’s highest poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without the burden of collecting household applications. Instead, schools that adopt CEP are reimbursed using a formula based on the percentage of students participating in other specific means-tested programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The Ames Community School District does not qualify for CEP.