Low-income, public school students shouldn’t have to go hungry simply because they have less money than others.
Last week, the New York City Department of Education announced that it will provide free lunch and breakfast to all 1.1 million public school students in the city during the 2017-2018 school year through the Free Lunch for All program. This program will directly benefit an additional 200,000 students who weren’t eligible for free lunch before the announcement and will save families around $300 per year.
Previously to qualify for free lunch, students had to come from a family with an income below 130 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that’s less than $32,000 a year. Many people living in poverty must sacrifice healthy diets to pay for rent, medicine, transportation, and other necessities. New York City was home to well over 1 million food insecure people in 2014, comprising over 16 percent of the population. By providing free meals during the school day, the New York City Department of Education has ensured that food insecure students will have at least two meals a day.
As Mayor Bill de Blasio noted in a press release, “students cannot learn or thrive in school if they are hungry all day.” Being well-fed gives students the energy and focus they need to learn and succeed in the classroom. Students who are food secure out-perform their food insecure in peers in reading and math. Food insecure students are also more likely to miss more days of school and ultimately not graduate. And if they do graduate, research shows that workers who experienced hunger as children are not as well-prepared physically, mentally, emotionally, or socially to perform on the job. The consequences of food insecurity are wide reaching. This move by the Department of Education is giving poor children a better shot at achieving in and outside of the classroom.
New York Public Schools is not the first school system to provide free lunch for all children. The Houston Independent School District announced that it will provide three meals a day to students for the 2017-2018 after Hurricane Harvey flooded most of the city. With so many stressors affecting Houston residents, school lunch is one less source of stress for students and their families as they recover from Harvey’s devastating effects. Programs with a similar goal of ensuring school-aged children have food to eat that they otherwise would not have access to, are across the country. Many school systems offer free lunch to students during the summer because school is often the only guaranteed meal for students from low-income households.
In a world where children have access to free lunch, there is no “lunch shaming”— the awful practice of publicly shaming students for outstanding lunch balances. When children have access to free lunch, students from low-income families have one less disadvantage holding them back and students can focus on being students. They can focus on learning and growing and expanding their mind — not on their growling stomachs.