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Why the free school lunch model in Chicago makes sense

Being bullied because of your family’s income is not new, unfortunately, but Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is eliminating the dividing line between those who qualify and those who don’t by making all school meals free for all students.

Free school lunches for everyone

The public school district in Chicago is enormous — it’s the third largest school district in the entire country and serves over 400,000 students. According to the Chicago Tribune, the percentage of kids living under the poverty level is so high the entire district now qualifies for reimbursable school meals, which means if your child attends a Chicago public school, he needs no money for breakfast or lunch.

While Chicago is reportedly moving ahead with this because of the high incidence of fraud, the end result is the same — everyone gets free lunch.

Why aren’t we doing this in every school district?

While kids who qualified for free and reduced lunch programs were easily identifiable when I was a child, modern kids on the program are often cloaked by electronic purchasing, codes and student accounts. However, kids can still sniff out who gets a free or reduced school lunch in districts that don’t have the equipment to hide a child’s free-lunch status.

Cathy, a former elementary school teacher in Texas, told me that some kids who would qualify aren’t signed up because their parents are ashamed or too proud to accept the services. She was employed at a Title I school where 50 percent of the children qualified for free school meals. “Something more humiliating was when a child was not on ‘free or reduced’ and didn’t (or couldn’t) pay their account,” she remembers. “They were given two pieces of bread and some peanut butter. This created far more teasing than anyone experienced with free or reduced lunch.” Shouldn’t free lunches be implemented nationwide?

Let’s eliminate barriers between kids and food

Offering free lunch across the board would help reduce this problem, as parents would no longer have to worry about applying and accepting the benefits if they were truly needed. Bullying is unfortunately a part of many children’s lives, and some kids find that being a target because of your family income is far too easy. Erika, mother of two, pointed out that all children in Minnesota get free breakfast regardless of family income, so some areas as a whole realize the importance of how nutrition plays a part in a child’s day.

Kids who don’t get enough to eat at home often rely on school meals as a major source of nutrition. Eliminating the barriers for those who need it and don’t apply for it is a good thing.

More on kids and nutrition

What you need to know about school lunches
School humiliates hungry students over their parents’ debts
Are your kids really eating their school lunch?

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