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Survey Report on School Food Budget Deficits During COVID-19: December Update

The Center for Ecoliteracy conducted a survey with California public school districts to learn about school food budget needs at the end of 2020 and their projections for the end of the 2020–21 school year. Responses include food service directors from 28 public school districts in California that collectively represent 466,100 students and 777 schools from across the state. This is what we learned: 

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has caused or increased budget deficits at 71% of school nutrition departments.
  • School nutrition directors report that their deficits are projected to be much worse by the end of the 2020–21 school year than they were at the close of the 2019–20 school year. 
  • If we use these data from school districts that serve 5% of California’s students to project financial impacts across the state, our estimates suggest that California’s school food programs could be facing as much as $558 million of debt by the end of the 2020–2021 school year.
  • Budget deficits remain high despite a continued commitment to serving students in need because of (1) increased costs per meal, (2) reduced meal participation, and (3) maintaining staff salaries.
  • California’s $0.75 per meal for March through August 2020 helps, but 60% of districts said this would not be enough to cover deficits during that time period. And the pandemic is not over. 

To find out more, see the Survey Report: COVID-19 Budget Deficits in School Food.