JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The price of school lunches is going up in some places -- and inflation isn’t the only driving force. News4JAX spoke with an expert on the issue who says the expiration of a government waiver is also one of the main issues.
Duval County Public Schools told News4JAX on Friday that right now, there are no plans to increase the price of lunch. But it’s a conversation that some school districts will be having throughout the summer.
News4JAX reached out to school districts in St. Johns, Clay and Nassau counties and is awaiting their responses.
Elsewhere in Florida, the Seminole County school district announced a lunch increase of 75 cents -- its first lunch increase in seven years. And high school breakfast will increase by $1.
It’s being described as the perfect storm of challenges for school systems across the nation: the rising price of food and supplies for meals as the result of inflation, as well as the expiration of what’s called pandemic waivers.
Diane Pratt-Heavner, who works for the School Nutrition Association, says the waivers provided schools with additional funding.
“The federal waivers that expire on June 30 have allowed schools to offer free meals to all students and have provided a higher reimbursement rate to help schools offset some of the rising costs,” she said. “So, unfortunately, given this perfect storm of increased prices, labor shortages and supply chain disruptions, many schools are having to raise meal prices because of the loss of additional funding.”
School meal costs have already increased in states like Iowa and North Carolina, with Florida now joining the list.
Pratt-Heavner says that even though schools place orders for food and supplies well in advance, the orders are often canceled because of supply chain issues forcing schools to pay higher costs to fill need. She says almost every item that schools need to secure is costing them more money
“We’ve heard about paper products -- so lunch trays, paper boats, utensils -- are extremely expensive right now, but food products, as well as chicken patties, you know, whole-grain breads,” Heavner said. “School meals meet nutrition standards, so schools are always looking for whole-grain items for their cafeterias, and those have been especially hard to find recently.”
It’s also important to point out that families who qualify for free or reduced-priced programs will not be affected by the expiration of pandemic waivers.