Schools get tough on deadbeats

February 25, 2009 7:37:20 AM PST
Budget realities of struggling families and a struggling school system have collided in New Mexico's largest district.

Faced with mounting unpaid lunch charges in the economic downturn, Albuquerque Public Schools last month instituted a "cheese sandwich policy." The alternative cold meals are served to children whose parents fail to pick up their lunch tab.

School districts in three other states have also taken to serving cheese sandwiches to lunch debtors.

Critics argue it's a form of punishment for children whose parents can't afford to pay. In some cases, parents are waiting for approval to participate in government-aided lunch programs.

In New Mexico, nearly 60 percent of public school students, about 204,000, received free or reduced-price lunches at the beginning of the school year.

In Albuquerque, unpaid lunch charges hover around $140,000 so far this school year.

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