Kerri Nelson. (Shenandoah Schools photo.)

Iowa school districts are about to resume classes without having the funding to provide free lunches for all students.

Two years of pandemic aid ended in June, leaving districts scrambling to get qualified families to re-submit applications for free or reduced-price lunches. Shenandoah Schools superintendent Kerri Nelson says the district is keeping lunches free through the Community Eligibility Provision. Nelson says the program will be a cost to the district, but it’s needed.

“To help provide a little bit of a buffer and a transition for our families,” Nelson says, “and we’ve let families know that this is a temporary intervention, we’ll do it as long as we’re able to.” She says their cash reserves will get them through at least one semester.

Des Moines will be providing free lunch to all students through the same program. Dan Barkel, superintendent at Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn-Remsen-Union, says he’s disappointed to not see the federal aid extended. “For some families, this might be a bit of a stretch just because obviously, they’ve gotten used to not having to pay,” Barkel says, “and of course, with inflation hitting the pocketbooks of a lot of folks, I have a feeling that it’ll be a bit of a shock.”

Barkel says he thinks the last two years have broken down some of the stigma of being on free or reduced-price lunch. He just hopes the schools don’t see an increase in negative balances, as the costs return to parents.

(By Kendall Crawford, Iowa Public Radio)