The Dallas School District is paying for unpaid lunches after coming up short by about $20,000 in the food service program.

The challenge for the district is in providing food for children to ensure no child goes hungry during lunchtime. House Bill 3454 requires all children receive the same lunch, regardless of ability to pay. That means if a child has no lunch — and no lunch money — rather than give him or her a cold sandwich, the district must give them the Salisbury steak, or whatever is on the menu that day.

In addition, parents are not filling out the free and reduced lunch forms that are required for the district to be reimbursed by the federal government for these lunches. Why should they? Really, when the law requires their child to be fed each day, what is the incentive to filling out a form?

The Dallas School Board authorized district employees to start sending parents to collections for not paying on lunch accounts, but all are reluctant to try and force payment. After all, if they lack financial means to pay for lunch, what good will it do to send them to collections? At the same time, that is $20,000 that will come out of classroom resources to pay for the deficit.

If districts were allowed to feed an alternative, less expensive meal to those who need one, but whose parents did not fill out a form or who did not have lunch money, perhaps that would help solve the issue. The state Legislature would have to reverse HB 3454 to make that happen.

Meanwhile, more education is needed for parents to either pay for lunch, apply for free and reduced lunch, or learn how to pack it in a brown sack.

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