Beginning this week, every student in the Baltimore City Schools system will receive access to free breakfast and lunch through a new state law.
The Hunger Free Schools Act of 2015 was enacted this year, allowing districts to take part in the Community Eligibility Program. The program allows entire schools to take part in giving free breakfast and lunches to all students rather than having individual students qualify.
House of Delegates member Keith Haynes, chief sponsor of the legislation in Maryland, referred to the program as "the great equalizer" for students because it works to close another socio-economic gap.
"We know that nutritious, balanced meals has a direct correlation to positive outcomes for our students," said Haynes, a Baltimore Democrat. "And we know not everyone has access to that."
Haynes went on to say that the "community eligible" program reduces the stigma that can come along with qualifying for free lunch. In addition, the numerous barriers for many students who are homeless and can not do the paperwork or those who do not qualify for free lunches are decreased through the new program, too. "We have some students who, if they don't get it at school, they don't get it at all," Haynes said.
Based on family income, 84% of students in Baltimore qualified for free meals this year according to the National School Lunch Program.
Under the program, all students at the participating school will receive free meals. In order for a school to qualify, at least 40% of their students must be from low-income families, writes Tim Tooten for WBAL TV.
"If a school has at least 40 percent of their students who are lower income and qualify for reduced meals, then the entire school receives free breakfast and lunch," said Delegate Keith Haynes, D-Baltimore City.
Advocates are happy with the change, as many criticized the city two years ago when instead of deciding to join the program, the city raised the school lunch cost to $3 — one of the highest across the country. Baltimore school officials made it clear that state funding could have been lost for schools in the city if they had taken part in the program without state legislation, reports Erica L. Green for The Baltimore Sun.
Parents throughout Maryland are supporting the program, saying that offering their children free meals at school will help with costs at home.
"I think it's good. A lot of people don't have it, you know, so a lot of kids do look forward to coming to school for lunch, so I think it's a good change," said Tamica Constantino, a Beechfield parent.
According to Michael Wilson, Director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, neither schools or the state will bear the cost of the program. Instead, the federal government will reimburse schools.
The opportunity was created this year by the federal government, allowing schools across the nation to participate.