Prairie Action ND

North Dakota Needs School Meals for All Children

School Lunch Debt Letter Graphic (1)

By: Heather Tyulyandin of West Fargo, ND
February 8th, 2024 

I sincerely applaud the effort by Mandan Middle School students who fundraised to pay off the lunch debt of their peers. However, this highlights the still-present need for school meal funding in North Dakota. According to “School Lunch Debt Statistics” EducationData.org 16,900 children in our state are food insecure, and the collective school meal debt of North Dakota is $3,052,140.

This is a story I know all too well… because it’s mine. My experience with food insecurity began in 2009, and from then on, we benefited from reduced-price lunches until 2016. In 2016, when I was a junior, my mom got the promotion she had worked for, but that raise came with setbacks. We no longer qualified for reduced-price lunch, and there were three of us in school.

Fifteen meals a week at full price added up faster than we could count and with living expenses and necessary health care, we didn’t have enough to make ends meet anymore. By the end of the year, we had a negative meal balance of around $1,000 despite my parents’ best efforts. Senior year the issue continued, and my lunch debt almost kept me from walking at graduation.

As we all know, school nutrition programs are critical to the health and well-being of kids in our 
state and their ability to learn and grow. The state legislature had the opportunity to eliminate this issue entirely with the original version of House Bill 1491 which would have provided free school meals for all of North Dakota’s children. Unfortunately, the legislature ultimately vetoed any additional aid to struggling families until a portion of funding was reworked into SB 2284.

This is not enough.

Investing in our children and families through nutrition programs is an investment in our future. Together we should support any effort to make sure our kids are fed and ready to learn in our schools.