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.

Jupiterimages/Getty Images

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

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:

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest