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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Unpaid school lunch charges have been on rise for years in New Hanover County, but now schools can no longer use federal funds to pay off those meals.

Last year alone unpaid lunches cost the district about $122,000.

New Hanover County schools now have to cover the cost of unpaid student lunches out of their own budgets. The school board recently made the move based on a change in federal requirements.

Schools must provide meals even if a child cannot pay. If it is not paid back, the money will now come from a school’s local supply allocations or general fund.

Sunset Park Elementary School principal Jakki Jethro says this is concerning, because that money would otherwise go toward instructional materials and emergencies.

“We’re all very concerned about this,” she said. “We’re very protective over our school budgets. We take being the financial leaders of the school very seriously, and the challenge is going to be finding the money to cover these costs.”

Jethro says her school could easily rack up $2-3,000 worth of unpaid lunches by the end of the school year. She hopes school leaders can come together to reexamine this policy, and find a solution.

The district says parents can help, simply by filling out the free and reduced lunch form online if they qualify.

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