All Chicago Students Will Get Free Meals This School Year

Written by Bryce Covert

Starting in September, all students in the Chicago Public Schools system, regardless of income, will be given free school meals, WBEZ reports.

This will be the first year that all schools, including more well-off ones, will join in. The district had rejected participating in the federal program that allows high-poverty school systems to offer free meals to all students in 2011, but 400 schools participated last year.

Participation has already brought benefits to Chicago. The district no longer has to subsidize meal programs with its general fund money and it’s getting a larger federal reimbursement. The full expansion this fall should also reduce staff time spent tracking which students have to pay for meals and collecting the money.

“This transition will also allow us to improve quality of food and infrastructure in our lunchrooms, allowing us to redirect the dollars we no longer have to subsidize back to the classroom,” the district said in an email to WBEZ.

A number of other school districts have decided to participate in the hopes of seeing savings and cutting down on administrative logistics. Paperwork was costing Dallas about $300,000 a year before it decided to give all students free meals. Boston and Indianapolis are offering free meals for all, and schools in Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan were the first to implement the program.

The switch also saves parents headaches and money. The challenges of filling out the paperwork kept many eligible families from enrolling and many fell just outside the income limits. Just half of the students eligible for free breakfast across the country actually get it. But in Boston, families just above the limits are now saving $230 per child each year for free breakfasts and between $405 and $455 per child for lunch. Meanwhile, in the schools in Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan that have participated for two years, participation increased in free lunch by 13 percent and in free breakfast by 25 percent.

The programs can cut down on the stigma of some students being singled out for free or reduced meals while others pay. Some schools stamped the hands of those who couldn’t afford lunch if they didn’t have money. Others have thrown out students’ reduced-price meals if their account balances ran low.

Hunger is a big impediment to learning, and the programs can help ease the problem. Three-quarters of the nation’s teachers say that the have students who regularly come to class hungry and more than one in five children lacks steady access to food. Hunger has a big impact on cognitive and social development while leaving children far more susceptible to mental illness.

This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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Debbie Crowe
Debbie Croweabout a year ago

This is a great idea. Now, no one is looked at differently!

Lone W.
Lone W.about a year ago

Finally! If we are looking for equality, one cannot have subsidies. Everybody should be treated the same. In the case of school meals, it is a great idea to offer nourishing breakfast and lunch to all children. It insures that all children will eat at least to balanced meals.

This is one of the few things I feel my taxes are well spent on.

Charmaine C.
Charmaine C.about a year ago

Excellent system! Wish they would do the same everywhere. If children are not getting a healthy meal at home then give it to them free of charge at school.

Now lets hope Dominos pizza is NOT on the school menus.

Ken W.
Ken W.about a year ago

It Should Be This Way In The Whole USA !!!

JL A.about a year ago

Lots of positives from this move--the only downside is losing the poverty indicator for data analyses purposes

Marcia Geiger
Marcia Geigerabout a year ago

Kudos to Chicago. Take away hunger and take away stigma. A Whole lot of cities need to follow your example.

Diane C.
Past Member about a year ago

I hope as much thought will be given to the quality of the food, but for kids in need I suppose this is better than nothing.

Magdalena J.
Magdalena C.about a year ago

Thank you for sharing!

Reaghan Reilly
Reaghan Reillyabout a year ago

It's a GREAT idea - very socially-minded! That's unusual for the States and I'm impressed. It's a leveller too - puts all the kids on equal footing when it comes to 'picking up the tab' and means it's an opportunity for every child to eat HEALTHILY.

Kay M.
Kay M.about a year ago

good. stop wasting money throwing kid's lunches away b/c they're 2 cents overdraft on their accounts.