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Tacoma Public Schools approves $151,000 grant to pay off school meal debt

The Ruth Foundation provided the grant to help Tacoma Public Schools pay off an increasing balance of school meal debt.

Editor's note: The above video previously aired on KING 5 when the 2019-20 school year began. 

The Tacoma Public Schools board approved a sizable grant in November to help pay off an increasing balance of student lunch debt. 

The Ruth Foundation, which is a legacy of the Gary E. Milgard Family Foundation, provided a $151,000 grant to TPS. The Ruth Foundation supports organizations primarily in Pierce County. 

TPS estimated as of October 2019 the amount of school meal debt associated with current students was over $180,000. 

Former Seahawk Richard Sherman also paid off $20,000 of lunch debt for Tacoma students earlier this week, according to the NFL Players Association (NFLPA). 

The grants and donations come as many school districts enter their second year of dealing with school meal debt.

The Hungry-Free Students' Bill of Rights, also known as ESHB 2610, was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2018.

The bill prohibits school personnel and volunteers from taking any action that would publicly identify a student who cannot pay for a school meal. The intent was to stop what's commonly referred to as "lunch shaming." However, it's led to unintended consequences, such as mounting debt for school districts across the state. 

Tacoma Public Schools staff are urging parents to help with this problem.

A spokesperson for the school district said at the start of the school year that parents who qualify should be signing up for free or reduced lunch. To qualify, a family of four will need to make $47,638 or less a year and a family of eight would need to make $80,346 or less a year.

Parents can also sign up for "Lunch Money Now" to load money onto their child's lunch account online.

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