The Illinois State Board of Education is warning schools they may not get reimbursed for free- and reduced-price lunch programs if the federal government goes into another shutdown.
Federal funds for school lunches flow through the State Board of Education, which then reimburses school districts and other programs. At the moment, ISBE has enough cash to get through April, but Jeff Aranowski, director of health and safety at the agency, says there’s no guarantee they’ll get their third quarter payment.
If that money doesn’t come through, the agency will be able to meet only about 40 percent of the need.
So ISBE developed a cash disbursement plan, to alert school districts they shouldn’t expect to be fully reimbursed.
Under the plan, only the Summer Food Service Program and child care institutions can expect 100 percent reimbursement. The summer food program serves low-income children up to age 18, and provided more than 4 million meals last year.
“We tried to prioritize those that will be most impacted, so obviously starting with childcare programs who would otherwise be pushing the cost off to families, then obviously when we start with our districts, those that are least financially secure than others would start at the top as well,” Aranowski says.
School-based food programs in the neediest districts (known as Tier 1) would receive only 50 percent reimbursement. Regional districts and non-public schools would get 25 percent reimbursement. The wealthiest districts (Tiers 3 and 4) and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice would receive no reimbursement at all.
“We just know that we will be running out of money in April this year if the budget impasse continues to be a factor,” Aranowski says, “and that thought of having zero dollars on hand for all communities across Illinois gave us some concern.”
The board published the priorities list on its website.