Thousands of parents across the region are sending their children to school without the money for their school lunch.
It has led to such a backlog in payments, that councils are being forced to cut back their education budgets to make up the shortfall.
An ITV Tyne Tees Freedom of Information request revealed parents owe nearly £200,000 to the region's schools and the number is rising year on year.
Watch our education correspondent Dan Ashby's report here:
Val Hall, Chair, Stockton Primary Headteachers' Association.
Schools across the North East are owed nearly £200,000 in unpaid school dinner money, according to a Freedom of Information Act request.
In most councils there has been an increase in the amount owed, forcing councils to take the money from the rest of the education budget.
Some families owe more than £800, while more and more are struggling to pay.