HARRISON, Ark. (KY3) - When the next school year begins, free pandemic-related school lunches will conclude in Arkansas.

Several districts like Harrison Public Schools are preparing for paid meals to return and do so with increased prices. Since 2019, a federal program allowed all students in public schools to eat for free while at school.

To this point, Congress has chosen not to extend the program.

“We’re going to go back to a three-tiered lunch system where you’ll either get free or reduced lunch and breakfast or pay full price,” said Dr. Stewart Pratt, superintendent of Harrison schools.”

Parents have not greeted the news with open arms.

“It’s going to be tough, especially within our region right now because we have inflation with prices and especially now that gas is so high,” said David Barfield, who has four students in the Harrison school district.

“There’s not much we can do except budget, decide if our children are going to eat at school or take their lunches,” said Nita Grinder, a former educator. “There are a lot of people out here with their children that if we didn’t have breakfast for them, they don’t get the meals they need at home.”

Grinder says she believes it’s worth discussing permanently funding free school lunches for all students.

“As we all face inflation, that is also going to trickle down to the school and will likely be seen by parents paying for student lunches,” said Dr. Pratt. “Worst case scenario for us maybe a $2 breakfast and a $4 lunch, which would be an adult rate, like what is seen at the high school. We don’t think it’ll be that high, but we want to let parents know prices aren’t going to be what they were in 2019.”

Some have wondered if there could be something done through CARES or American Rescue funds to offset the increase in prices, but no discussion has been pushed in Little Rock.

Arkansas Rep. Ron McNair says his discussions Thursday with the Department of Finance and Department of Education did not render any plans to replace lunch program funding.

Regardless of income, Harrison schools ask all parents to fill out a free or reduced lunch form during the summer months. Click here for more information.

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