Doesn’t the government pay for school lunch?
The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program. However, despite popular belief, the government does not cover the full cost of school meals. Schools serve meals that meet Federal requirements and provide meals for free or reduced prices to children who qualify in exchange for meal subsidy that covers some, but not all, of the cost of the meal. For example, in the 2012-2013 school year, if a student paid for school lunch (the median price is $2.15 at the elementary level), then the Federal government would give the school district $0.27 for that meal. Therefore, the food service program receives $2.42 for the meal. Upon first glance, that may seem like enough to put a meal on the table. However, school food service operations are usually separate businesses operating independently of the school budget and the $2.42 has to cover the cost of the food, plus labor and benefits, equipment, supplies, transportation, utilities and more. In the end, there is only about $1 to spend on the food itself. To defray costs, the food service operation may rely on selling a la carte items to earn extra money for the program. The reimbursement for a student who receives a free meal is $2.86 and $2.46 for the student who pays a reduced rate. In addition to the cash reimbursements, schools can receive commodities from the USDA, a value of 22.75 cents per meal.
Food and Nutrition Services. National School Lunch Program Fact Sheet. August 2012.
School Nutrition Association. School Nutrition In Focus, Phase 1 Summary Report. January 2013.