ROTTERDAM — The price of breakfast and lunch at the Mohonasen Central School District is set to increase in September, a move made necessary by rising food costs.
The district’s Board of Education approved the increase on Wednesday, just weeks before a pandemic-era program that provided free meal waivers to all students regardless of income is set to expire at the end of the summer.
Breakfast prices at Bradt Primary and Pinewood Intermediate will increase from $1 to $1.50, while breakfast at Draper Middle School and Mohonasen High School will rise to $2, an increase of 25 cents.
Lunch prices, meanwhile, will increase by 25 cents at all four schools, bringing the price to $3 at Bradt and Pinewood and $3.50 at the middle and high schools.
The increased prices are in line with neighboring school district’s, including Niskayuna, which charges $3 for lunch for elementary students, $3.25 at the middle school and $3.50 at the high school. Prices are the same at the nearby Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District, except at the high school, where lunch costs $3.75.
The increase in school lunch prices is the latest blow to families struggling to make ends meet amid soaring inflation, which has driven up the price of nearly everything from food to energy costs.
How the higher lunch prices will affect families in the district remains unclear.
The district this week launched an application for families seeking free or reduced meals for their children.
Under the program, students from families with an income up to 130% of the poverty rate, or $34,450 for a family of four, are eligible for free lunch. Those whose families’ earn up to 185% of the federal poverty rate, or $49,025 for a family of four, are eligible for reduced meal prices.
Both programs have been widely used in the past.
During the 2019-20 academic year, 46% of the district’s students were eligible to receive free or reduced lunches. It’s unclear how many students will be eligible for the program, but state data shows that 42% of Mohonasen students were considered “economically disadvantaged” during the 2020-21 school year.
The district has been providing all students with free breakfast and lunch for the past two years thanks to a universal program approved by Congress in response to the pandemic. That program allowed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue free meal waivers to students regardless of family income.
Congress moved to extend the program through the 2022-23 academic year before it expired on June 30, but failed to reach a consensus to remove the income requirement to receive free lunch. Instead, lawmakers extended the waivers through the summer and increase meal reimbursements to districts through the end of the upcoming school year.
President Joe Biden approved the $3 billion legislation last month.
School Superintendent Shannon Shine on Wednesday said the district is planning to continue to advocate that the universal meal program be extended and is hopeful lawmakers revisit the topic before school resumes in September.
He said ensuring all students are fed should be a priority for lawmakers, and that free meals have been shown to improve learning outcome for students and bolster attendance rates, among other benefits.
“Other than it’s expensive, I can’t give you counter argument as to why the federal government would not do something that I can link statistically to attendance, graduation, course completion, future use of Medicaid, student health, mental illness,” Shine said. “This one baffles me.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.