YORKTOWN, Va. — Public school students across the Peninsula will see a rise in prices of school-provided meals next year.
According to a comparative meal prices document from the York County School Division, in the 2019-2020 school year Hampton, York County and Williamsburg-James City County schools will see a 5-cent increase.
However, Eileen Cox, spokeswoman for WJCC, said the division’s Child Nutrition Services has not made a determination on meal prices for the upcoming year. She said once they are determined, the prices will need to be approved by the school board this summer.
This trend of increase is being seen in schools across the country. According to the School Nutrition Association, The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 set new standards and guidelines for what schools served and since then prices have been gradually increasing.
In the past six years, the cost for lunch at both the elementary and secondary level for Hampton City Schools has risen 40 cents, said Kellie Goral, spokeswoman for the district. WJCC schools have also seen a 40-cent increase, according to the district’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.
Part of the reason for those new prices: federal regulations require school divisions to adjust lunch prices if less than $3 was charged for a paid lunch in the previous year, said Katherine Goff, spokeswoman for the York County School Division. That’s because $3 is the reimbursement amount for a free meal.
To meet that federal requirement, a division can either increase meal prices or use other non-federal funds to supplement the school food service amount, she said.
“The [York County School Division] is opting to combine the two available methods for addressing the federal regulations,” Goff said. “[By] using non-federal revenues in the Food Services account and a modest 5-cent increase to the price of breakfast and lunch for students and adults for next year.”
Goff said the increase will allow the district to maintain the Virginia Department of Education’s required three-month operating fund balance in the food service account for the division. In addition, it will help account for rising food costs.
Those price increases seem to put the districts around the national average price range.
Nationally, the average price for elementary lunch is $2.48 and for breakfast, $1.46. In York, lunch in elementary school is $2.45 and breakfast, $1.55.
However, middle and high school students, both nationally and in the Peninsula, pay more for their meals. In York County, according to the division’s data, an elementary school student will pay $2.65 for lunch while a middle and high school student will pay $2.75.
In Hampton, elementary students are paying $2.10 for lunch and $2.30 in middle and high school.
“Meal prices are different as the USDA meal pattern requirements are different for the elementary and secondary students,” Goral said. “The meal pattern for secondary students requires additional fruits, vegetables, grains, and meat/alternative be offered to secondary students, hence the slightly higher meal price.”
One of the lowest meal rates on the Peninsula is in Newport News, where 39 school sites offer free breakfast and lunch for all students through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, said Michelle Price, spokeswoman for Newport News Public Schools. CEP is a meal service option for school districts in low-income areas, according to the USDA website.
The remaining six schools in the district that are not part of the program offer free breakfast to all students.
But while prices are rising slightly in other districts, students and families have the opportunity to apply for free and reduced lunch in all school divisions.