Apr 26, 2022 - News

Rising food prices squeeze Philadelphia school district

Illustration of a lunch tray with its compartments in the shape of a sad face. 

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Rising food costs are eating an ever larger share of the School District of Philadelphia's budget.

Why it matters: The district is already facing a number of challenges driven in part by the pandemic, including a rise in teacher resignations.

  • District officials say mounting prices for school meals could cut into other investments, such as staffing.

State of play: The district expects to face a shortfall of between $6 million and $8 million to feed students through the federally funded free- and reduced-price meal program this year, Uri Monson, the district's chief financial officer, told Axios.

  • 100% of Philly students in the high-poverty district are eligible for the National School Lunch Program.
  • The district expects to spend approximately $65 million on the program this year.

How it works: The district pays upfront for the costs of buying, staffing and distributing breakfast and lunch, as well as take-home weekend meals for some students.

  • The federal government reimburses the district on a monthly basis.
  • Yes, but: Federal reimbursements are capped per meal and the district pays for whatever is not covered.

The big picture: Inflation is surging to levels not seen since the early 1980s. Prices were up 8.5% in March over last year, and food costs in particular have soared, Axios' Matt Phillips reports.

What they're saying: Federal funding for the program has generally balanced out for the district over several years, but Monson doesn't expect that to continue.

  • "Food prices have gone up and we're not getting the [federal] reimbursements to keep up with that... This trend is a troubling one and our guess is that it's going to get worse," he added.

What to watch: The district is currently budgeting for the 2022-23 school year and negotiating prices with vendors for the food program.

Go deeper: School districts brace for rising lunch prices


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Philadelphia.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Philadelphia stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Philadelphia.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more