Missoula County Public Schools expects more student debts after meal price hike

Skylar Rispens

At the start of this school year Missoula County Public Schools students had over $42,000 in outstanding meal balances, all of which predated the COVID pandemic.

That figure did not come as a surprise to Stacey Rossmiller, the district’s food and nutrition services supervisor.

“That number is actually pretty good to me, believe it or not,” Rossmiller said. “There’s been some years that we’ve had close to $100,000 in outstanding debt.”

School meals were free for students across the United States for two years during the pandemic through a federal waiver that expired over the summer, yet the debts remained.

Outstanding balances for meals follow a student throughout their time in the district, all the way to graduation, and can stand in the way of receiving a high school diploma.

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“This is sort of a scary situation that some families are in, having debt associated with their public school experience,” said Kelli Hess, the interim executive director of the Missoula Food Bank.

At MCPS, about half of meal debts are held by high school students. Hellgate High School has the highest outstanding meal balance in the district

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