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:
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Enquiries are ongoing and police are appealing for information after the incident.
South Tyneside Council say despite its financial pressures, it is committed to regeneration, economic growth and job creation in the borough
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