Boston Public Schools will serve both free breakfast and lunch to all students this year, regardless of their families’ income.
Before the change, families had to fill out forms to qualify for the free meals program. And while 78 percent of Boston students qualified for free or reduced-price meals, the district notes that many who didn’t qualify fell just outside the income limits. The district previously made breakfast free for all students, saving families who didn’t qualify previously $230 per child. Those families will now save $405 to $455 per child each year thanks to free lunch.
The move makes Boston the largest city to participate in a national program called “Community Eligibility Option” that waives meal fees for all students. It’s also being implemented in Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, and parts of New York City.
The change comes at a time of high rates of child hunger. Three-quarters of the country’s teachers say they have students who routinely show up to school hungry. Half say hunger is a serious problem in their classrooms. More than one in five children lack steady access to food.
Yet just half of the students who are eligible for free breakfast receive it. While 21 million students receive free school lunches, just 11 million get breakfasts. Getting these meals has a big impact on academics. If instead 70 percent who are eligible got free breakfast, 3.2 million students would achieve higher test scores, while there would be 4.8 million fewer absences and 807,000 more high school graduates.
Hunger has a huge impact on children. It makes them far more susceptible to mental illness, a more significant factor than poverty or family education level. It can also have big negative impacts on cognitive and social development. Students who struggle with hunger fall quickly behind their classmates.
Yet Republicans have proposed cuts that could roll back any expansion to free meals. In the House, they proposed $20.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which would have kicked 210,000 children off of the school meals program. After that bill failed, they now plan to try to double those cuts.