New law in Arkansas tackles school lunch debts using medical marijuana sales tax


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Fort Smith, Arkansas – The state of Arkansas has initiated Act 657, which is set to address the escalating lunch debts in public schools, as informed by Scott Hardin from the AR Department of Finance and Administration.

This law, endorsed during the 2023 Legislative Session, strategically redirects the tax revenues from medical marijuana sales to address broader issues such as food insecurity and associated health concerns. Elaborating on its implications, Hardin expressed, “What that means is elimination of school lunch debt. And then the legislature, Arkansas Legislative Council, can also expand that to address some other needs across the state. But ultimately when it was discussed, it was eliminating school lunch debt.”

Cumulatively, the state has received $105 million from tax revenues generated by medical marijuana sales. Hardin provided insight into the scale of these sales by revealing, “In any given day, Arkansans are spending somewhere between $750,000 – $800,000 to purchase medical marijuana.”

Interestingly, Act 657 also repurposed tax revenues originally earmarked for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences National Cancer Institute to be utilized for addressing food-related challenges in the state. Hardin clarified that the Institute would continue receiving funds, albeit from an alternative source.

Charles Warren, the Chief Financial Officer for the Fort Smith Public School District, highlighted the gravity of the situation. He said, “Fort Smith alone now has an outstanding balance of negative school meals of over $250,000. Every dollar that we don’t collect from a full-pay student is $1 that we’re going to have to take from some other resource that could be provided for that same student in the classroom.”

Warren went on to explain that students had been receiving complimentary breakfasts and lunches for two years during the pandemic. However, once the provision for free lunches concluded last year, there was a noticeable surge in school lunch debts.

Warren pointed out a prevalent oversight, “A lot of parents got used to not filling out that free and reduced (meal) application. They don’t qualify automatically. They have to fill out the paperwork to prove that they qualify each and every school year.”

From the tax revenues of medical marijuana, $25 million was allocated to UAMS the previous year. With sales projected to rise this year, a larger portion of the revenues will be directed towards addressing school lunch debts.

Hardin indicated that the allocation of these funds would take place at the fiscal year’s conclusion on June 30. He further added, “You would probably be surprised to learn how much school lunch debt that there is in the state. This is really probably the best year that we’ve ever had in the state for just students’ access to school lunches.”

Simultaneously, Act 656, another recent legislation, mandates the state to bear the expenses of reduced-priced meals for eligible students. As per the AR Department of Education, the estimated expenditure to reimburse the school districts stands at around $6 million.


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