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NYC Announces That No Student Will Go Hungry with Free Public School Lunches

New York City’s public schools started a new school year with a major announcement--guaranteeing all students school lunch, free of charge.

Following a long five-year lobbying campaign from city council members and educational and nutritional advocates, all of the city’s one million public school students will now enjoy lunch as part of the city’s move to end “lunch shaming.” The cruel practice has caught national attention with schools coming under fire for withholding meals from students without money and, in one infamous case, sending a student home with a hand stamp reading “I need lunch money.”

The majority of New York City’s public school students are economically disadvantaged and roughly 780,000 students are currently eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The new program, Free School Lunch for All, will give an additional 200,000 students free school lunches. A school lunch currently costs $1.75.

The move is part of the latest effort by the de Blasio administration to expand access to free meals to show that “all communities matter,” according to school chancellor Carmen Fariña. The city had begun a pilot program in 2014 with free lunches for middle school students.

School breakfast had already been offered to the city’s school system and city officials say the program isn’t expected cost the city additional money with the state having recently changed how families are tracked for Medicaid benefits. The new system identifies more eligible students, this, in turn, has brought more federal money into the city to fund the expanded lunch program.

Advocates had long urged Mayor Bill de Blasio to make good on his promise for free lunches and had criticized Fariña in the past for telling principals to give free lunches only if the student asks for it. Deeming her “out of touch and missing the point.”

New York City is just the latest major metro public school system to offer all of its students free lunches. Boston had begun a similar program in 2013 and Chicago started giving its students free breakfast and lunch in 2014.

“If a student eats that day, the district gets reimbursed,” Leslie Fowler, executive director of CPS’ nutritional support services told The Chicago Tribune at the time of the program’s announcement. “But if they don’t eat, then CPS doesn’t get reimbursed and there’s no cost associated with that meal.”

Withholding a meal from a student or publicly shaming them because they cannot pay, not only denies them valuable nutrition that fosters learning, but creates feelings of anxiety and inadequacy.

By offering free lunch to all students, school systems like that of New York City help to remove the stigma associated with being too poor to afford a school lunch.

“We’re erasing all the terrible history of the school food program--not just in New York City, but nationally--that has divided children by income,” Liz Accles, a school lunch advocate and executive director of Community Food Advocates said. “This is a new day.”


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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