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Universal free lunch

New York Teacher

It’s a big win for our students: This year, virtually all New York City public schools will offer universal free lunch. The UFT helped to make it happen. UFT members and officers testified at hearings, lobbied Mayor Bill de Blasio and spread the word through social media, rallies and regular news conferences.

Our message was clear: Students who are hungry have a hard time focusing and concentrating in class. The free and reduced-price lunch on offer in the cafeteria has not always helped because the stigma attached to it has kept students from the table. It’s estimated that one-third of the 780,000 New York City students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch would rather not eat because of the embarrassment of taking a free meal.

Moreover, many families earn too much to qualify for free lunch under federal guidelines, but not enough to afford the roughly $35 monthly cost of a school lunch.
Over the last three years, we worked hand in hand with the Lunch 4 Learning coalition to raise awareness and drive the point home.

After hearing us loud and clear, Mayor Bill de Blasio added new funding in the city budget. Since the 2014–15 school year, universal school lunch has been offered as a pilot program in 565 city schools; the city budget expands the program to 890 more schools for the 2017–18 school year. That means 1,455 schools will now offer free lunch to 990,000 students this fall. And because it’s available to virtually all students, no one is singled out.

The de Blasio administration has allocated $1 million for the program, which is paid for through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision. Boston, Chicago and Detroit schools also participate in the program.

Universal free lunch is long overdue. It’s a great start to a new school year.