Let’s make school meals free for all kids

Originally published on Commonwealth Magazine.

Just over 5 percent of students paying full price eat both school breakfast and lunch, daily. That means, unfortunately, school meals carry with them the label of being “poor;” a label that brings fear of stigma for far too many children and can be enough to lead some to skip meals despite the need. Districts that have utilized federal programs to provide school meals for all, including Boston, Chelsea, Everett and Haverhill Public Schools, have seen higher program participation by addressing barriers of stigma and cost when every child has greater access to school meals. School Meals for All legislation would increase participation in school meals by an estimated 50,000 students statewide.

Establishing School Meals for All would also address the long-term costs that could come from returning to the status quo when this crisis subsides. In 2016, the Greater Boston Food Bank and Children’s HealthWatch estimated the cost of food insecurity in the Commonwealth to be $2.4 billion annually, with much of the costs attributed directly to childhood health problems and the need for special education. School meals also provide real life learning to help students develop healthy habits that allow for healthier adults, further reducing the financial impact of hunger. Research has also proven what we know to be true: a hungry student cannot learn.

Most importantly, however, is the simple fact that our priority in Massachusetts must be to feed our kids, and School Meals for All will do that. Massachusetts has been a national leader in education on so many fronts throughout our history, and now more than ever we need to lead the nation in providing School Meals for All. Every child and every community are better off when all students are nourished and ready to learn.