Kansas Appleseed released a comprehensive report on findings related to meal debt faced by Kansas schools and families, a year following the ending of universal school meals. During the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) made school meals available for all students, regardless of a student’s economic background. 

Universal school meals granted all 480,000 public school children in Kansas access to free meals, resulting in a 60-66% participation surge. 

The report’s findings make clear that school lunch programs have a pivotal impact on student’s health and well-being. 

“When Kansas kids are hungry, they can’t learn. Ensuring kids have what they need to thrive is imperative to our students’ success– in and out of the classroom,” said Haley Kottler, Thriving Campaign Director, Kansas Appleseed. 

Since ending universal meal provisions in 2022, Kansas schools have confronted an alarming escalation in meal debt, skyrocketing to nearly six times the pre-COVID levels. This surge has disproportionately burdened financially insecure families and school districts grappling with rising food expenses. 

Only 60% of all 286 school districts in Kansas have documented policies offering alternate meals temporarily for students with outstanding debt. 

In certain school districts, meal debt can result in students experiencing hunger throughout the day. In severe instances, this can lead to the district reporting the child to the Department of Children and Families as a “Child in Need of Care” case.

“I look forward to working with school districts and community partners to ensure that every child in every district has consistent access to school meals. Together, we can build policies that guarantee every student is fed.” said Martha Terhaar, Thriving Advocate, Kansas Appleseed. ” 

Kansas Appleseed is a statewide organization that believes Kansans, working together, can build a state full of thriving, inclusive, and just communities. Kansas Appleseed conducts policy research and analysis and works with communities and partners to understand the root causes of problems and advocate for comprehensive solutions. For more information, please visit www.kansasappleseed.org.