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Proposed Arizona public school bill would ensure students with unpaid fees can't be denied meals

Inflation in Phoenix was up 3.7 percent in August compared to last year, and it is becoming costly for parents to provide nutritious food for their children. 

To guarantee meals for Arizona public school students, Arizona lawmakers have introduced a bill that would ensure students cannot be denied meals if they have accrued unpaid school meal fees. Students with unpaid meal fees can not be treated differently and must be served a meal equal to the one a student with no unpaid meal fees would receive.  

Sen. Anna Hernandez, a co-sponsor of Arizona Senate Bill 1233, said that the bill will help alleviate spending for parents.  

“A way for working parents to have one less cost that they worry about, and can guarantee their children are receiving meals,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said SB1233 was originally introduced in the state Senate last session on July 31st but did not receive a hearing in a committee at that time. Hernandez said when the session begins in January, the bill will be reintroduced. 

Hernandez said the parents or guardians of the children who accrue unpaid meal fees are still expected to pay the debt.  

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index for August 2023, prices in the Phoenix area increased by 3.7 percent between August 2022 and August 2023. The index states that during this time the price of food increased by 4.9 percent in the Phoenix area. 

Ryan Douglas, a parent of two in the Higley Unified School District, Arizona, said he is concerned about the cost of groceries.

“A year ago we were spending $120 to $150 a week,” he said. “Now we are seeing $180 to $220 a week for pretty much the same, if not less than we were purchasing.”

Douglas said he gives his children lunches for school. He estimated most of the items he provides his children with have gone up 25 to 40 percent in the last year. 

Parents aren’t the only ones feeling the ripple effect caused by inflation. The schools also said they are struggling to deliver food items as prices rise.

Miranda Martin, Director of Child Nutrition Services, for Phoenix Elementary School District #1, said that inflation and rising costs have had a major impact on child nutrition services.

“We pay a vendor to deliver brown box commodity items. A year ago, it was $2.45 per case, while today the cost is $7.50 per case,”  she said.

The district will offer all of its students free breakfast and lunch during the 2023-24 academic year despite rising costs. 

Martin said the district takes pride in offering free meals to its students. 

“We know that students who receive regular meals experience significant benefits, including improved overall health, better academic performance, and reduced absenteeism,” she said.

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