A Rhode Island School District Is Sending Debt Collectors After Families Over Unpaid Lunches

Debts could now impact the credit scores of parents who don’t pay, according to a local news report.

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A school district in Rhode Island wants its lunch money back—and has hired a private debt collection agency to go after parents to get it.

The chief operating officer of schools in Cranston, Rhode Island, recently sent a letter to parents warning them that the district had hired Transworld Systems, a private debt collector, to compel families with unpaid lunch balances to hand over the money, according to a local news report by WPRI.

A week’s worth of lunches in Cranston elementary schools costs $12.50. In middle and high school, that price goes up to $16.25. According to the school’s “unpaid lunch policy,” reported by ThinkProgress, students who do not have money for lunch can charge up to five hot meals. If at that point they do not repay their debt, they are fed a “sunny butter sandwich, fruit, and milk” instead of a hot lunch each day—though they are still charged the full lunch price.

The policy also encouraged families to apply for free or reduced-priced hot lunches, which are available based on income.

In his letter, the Cranston school district COO, Raymond L. Votto Jr., argued that the step to hire a debt collector was a financial necessity for the district, which has amassed an unpaid lunch balance of $45,859 just since September. The district had previously required families to pay their full school lunch bill by the end of the school year, but many did not pay. Over the past two school years, the district’s unpaid balance lunch balance reached a total of $95,508, according to Votto. “The District lunch program cannot continue to lose revenue,” he wrote.

Transworld Systems will begin attempting to collect the debts on January 2, WPRI reports. Parents who do not pay—or who can’t afford to—could then be reported to national credit bureaus, affecting their credit score.

Watch the full WPRI news report here: