Middle Schools Get Universal Free Lunches

BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Staff Writer

Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced last Thursday that funding for free lunch at all public middle schools in the City will be included in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.

The City allocated $6.25 million to fund the lunch program, which will feed about 170,000 children, according to a City Council statement released last week. The lunch program will begin this fall.

Until this point, the City provided free and reduced-price lunches only to qualifying low-income students. According to Community Food Advocates, DOE data indicates that on average one third of eligible students opt out of free and reduced-price meal programs.

Community Food Advocates is a nonprofit that spearheaded a “Lunch 4 Learning” campaign for universal free school lunches.

“This is an incredibly transformative moment for middle school students who will grow up with a school lunch program where everyone eats on equal terms – the poverty stigma attached to school lunch will be erased,” said Liz Accles, executive director of Community Food Advocates, in a statement released last week.

“This major shift lays the groundwork for universal free school lunch for all New York City students,” Accles added.

Leslie Costa, public school parent and PTA co-president at PS/IS 78, said she has some reservations about the funding.

“I do believe children who need a free lunch deserve to have a healthy meal, but don’t think money should be wasted on those who don’t, or don’t feel like making a lunch,” Costa said. “That money could be better spent on enrichment programs, which most everyone I know feels is incredibly important.”

The $75 billion budget also includes $17 million to keep 57 public housing community and senior centers open, $11.1 million for CUNY merit based scholarships and $6.2 million to hire police administrative aids, allowing more police officers to be deployed to the streets.

Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, jstrawbridge@queenstribune.com or @JNStrawbridge.