Tacoma school officials working to cut down $130K in meal debt

TACOMA, Wash. -- It's only a couple days into the school year for Tacoma Public Schools, and they're already facing a challenge.

"We're about $130,000 in meal debt at this moment," said Alicia Lawver.

Lawver, a spokesperson for the district, says that in the 2018-2019 school year they saw meal debt go up by about $80,000.

"Last year we were starting to  go up about $10,000 a week for a while there," Lawver said.

It's a problem that raises big questions.

"How do we feed kids, but not surprise parents with all this debt," said Lawver.

She says the district reaches out to a parent as soon as a child hits about $10 in debt. They're also asking parents to apply for free and reduced lunch, something that may help lower that big number.

"We hope people will pay it, but we're also talking to people willing to make donations for the cause," Lawver said.

People like Allison Stewart Bishins, who raised money through a GoFundMe to help pay off lunch debt at Tacoma schools last year. This year, she says, she wants to get ahead of the issue.

"Part of the problem, with school lunch debt, was not getting people signed up early enough for free and reduced lunch," she said.

Stewart Bishins is working to raise awareness to make sure that parents sign up early and avoid racking up large bills that they may not be able to pay, and leaving the district tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

"It definitely impacts staff and the budget," Lawver says.

Lawver says there are a few things parents can do to avoid lunch debt, like signing up for free and reduced lunch. She also wants to emphasize that families have to sign up for this every year.

Parents can also set up alerts for their child's lunchroom spending and put a cap on their child's spending limits.

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