(Center Square) — All children in Washington would receive free school meals under a plan proposed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. He will ask the Legislature to spend $86 million a year to provide breakfast and lunch for the 330,000 college students in Washington who are currently not eligible for free meals.
“When students are hungry, their ability to learn and engage in school is affected,” Reykdal said in a statement Thursday. “Quality food is a key element of student success and access to meals is an important element of school attendance. We need to stop expecting families to foot the bill for the resources and supports that are an integral part of the school day. »
Offering free lunches to everyone will also remove the stigma sometimes attached to participating in the free lunch program, according to Drayton Jackson, chairman of the Central Kitsap School Board.
“During the pandemic, I have seen students take advantage of school meals that previously did not because of the stigma associated with free and discounted lunch programs,” Drayton said in a statement. “A universal free school meals program will eliminate this stigma and feed more students.”
Despite the benefits, reviewers point out that the program is expensive and often unnecessary.
“According to the Office of Management and Budget, the National School Lunch Program lost nearly $800 million due to abusive payments in fiscal year 2018, while the School Breakfast Program lost $300 million. dollars,” wrote Jonathan Butcher of the Heritage Foundation. “The Office of Management and Budget calls these programs ‘high priority’ programs because of unnecessary spending.”
Due to disruptions to school attendance from COVID-19, the federal government granted waivers to the National School Meals Program that made free meals available to all children beginning in 2022. These waivers, which had been renewed several times, expired in June. This means that free or reduced-price school meals will once again be available based on financial need for the 2022-2023 school year.
Between the NSLP and the federal Community Eligibility Provision, which provides free lunches in schools with a higher concentration of poor students, about two-thirds of Washington’s 1.1 million school children already receive free lunches.
Federal guidelines say a family of four with a household income of $51,338 a year would pay about $2,330 a year for their children to have a healthy breakfast and lunch at school, according to the Department of Health. Washington State Education.
California, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and Nevada are offering free lunches to all public school students, NPR reported.