Before the change, families had to fill out forms to qualify for the free meals program. And while 78 percent of Boston students qualified for free or reduced-price meals, the district notes that many who didn’t qualify fell just outside the income limits. The district previously made breakfast free for all students, saving families who didn’t qualify previously $230 per child. Those families will now save $405 to $455 per child each year thanks to free lunch.
The move makes Boston the largest city to participate in a national program called “Community Eligibility Option” that waives meal fees for all students. It’s also being implemented in Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, and parts of New York City.
Yet just half of the students who are eligible for free breakfast receive it. While 21 million students receive free school lunches, just 11 million get breakfasts. Getting these meals has a big impact on academics. If instead 70 percent who are eligible got free breakfast, 3.2 million students would achieve higher test scores, while there would be 4.8 million fewer absences and 807,000 more high school graduates.
Yet Republicans have proposed cuts that could roll back any expansion to free meals. In the House, they proposed $20.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which would have kicked 210,000 children off of the school meals program. After that bill failed, they now plan to try to double those cuts.