Money remaining in student lunch accounts (June 2013 School Leader Update)
What must a school do at the end of a school year with money that remains in a student’s meal account or unused punches on a meal ticket?
- If a student will be returning to the school the next school year, any remaining money or unused punches must accrue to the benefit of the student for use the next fall. If meal prices will be increasing for the next school year or differ between grade levels, it may be best to refund any remaining ticket value unless the district chooses to honor outstanding punches for a meal even though the cost of those meals is now higher.
- If a student has graduated or will otherwise not be returning, the school must refund the money to the student’s parent or guardian. The parent/guardian paid the money in return for the meals. The school may not keep any part of the money if it has not provided all of the meals. To do so is theft.
What if the amount remaining in the account is just a few cents?
The amount is irrelevant. The money is the property of the parent, not the school.
May a school have a policy to the effect that a refund will be made upon request of a parent/guardian/adult student?
No. The school cannot put the burden of requesting a refund (for what belongs to the parent anyway) on the parent. The school could give parents the option of receiving a refund or making a donation of the remaining money to the school, but cannot sit back and wait for a parent to make the first move.
How is the remaining money to be returned?
This can be done at the discretion of the school, as long as the means are reasonable. Different circumstances will determine whether it is reasonable to send a check home with a student versus mailing the check to the parent. If a school sends cash home with a student, the school should take some common sense steps such as documenting that it has done so, putting the money in an envelope with the parent’s name on it, making sure that other students are not aware that a student will be carrying home cash, etc. Carefully consider the age and maturity level of the student, as well as safety factors (will this make the student a target of thieves?), before sending cash home with a student.
What about students who are “no shows” with no notice to the school?
- Once a school is reasonably certain that a student will not be returning, the school needs to take reasonable steps to ascertain a forwarding address. If another school makes contact to ask for the student’s records, work with that school. If no other school makes such contact, the school holding money that belongs to the student’s family may have to work with other public officials (city hall, e.g.) to try to locate the family.
- If, after making reasonable attempts, the school cannot locate the family, the school should ask its accountant and/or auditor how to handle the funds that remain in the student’s account.