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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

School meals are free in California, Maine, Vermont

TANSTAAFL -- "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch" -- still applies, if you remember the taxpayers, but schools in some states will provide free breakfast and lunch to all students, regardless of financial need, reports Marina Pitofsky in USA Today.

California, Maine and Vermont have approved "universal meals," and other states may follow suit.

Last year's cutoff for a family of four was $34,000 in income for free meals and $48,000 for reduced-price meals. The new policy means students from middle-class and affluent families get two free meals a day, if they're willing to eat cafeteria food.

Federal waivers allowed schools to offer free meals, including meals-to-go for remote students during the pandemic, reports Libby Stanford in Education Week.

Those waivers expired, but the Keep Kids Fed Act raised reimbursement rates, making it easier for school cafeterias to keep prices low.

Schools with 40 percent or more students qualified for free and reduced-price meals may offer all students free meals.

School cafeterias are facing "inflation, supply-chain disruptions, and staffing shortages," Stanford writes.

If federal dollars don't cover the full costs, schools will end up diverting money from academics to feed children whose parents could afford the cost of a peanut-butter sandwich and an apple. That seems unwise to me.

Student poverty rates are calculated based on eligibility for free and subsidized meals, an increasingly unreliable measure. It's way past time to find alternatives.

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