Students at all Indianapolis Public Schools will get a free breakfast, lunch and nutritional snack each day starting in the next school year. For four years the meals will be made possible with funding from a federal program that the school board voted Tuesday to join.
The money will come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
To be eligible for the program a school system must demonstrate that at least 40 percent of its students already qualify for free meals. The grant from the USDA covers the costs of the meals for the students who do not qualify. This year 77 percent of IPS students qualified for free meals based on family income.
Superintendent Lewis Ferebee told the Indianapolis Star that he was glad the board voted to join the program.
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"Hunger and having a healthy lunch and breakfast should not be a barrier to teaching and learning," he said. "It's our mission to remove every barrier to teaching and learning. I don't want a stomach growling. I don't want somebody thinking about lunch or breakfast … We want to make sure our students are healthy and well fed so they can learn."
The vote led both supporters and critics to sound off on the paper’s Facebook page.
"Excellent," wrote one. "So glad that so many children will have one less worry on their mind when they are trying to learn and make a future for themselves.”
But others were not so happy. One opponent to the new program wrote a post saying, "Don't rely on taxpayers to feed your kids. Parents shouldn't rely on free lunches and always looking for free handouts.”
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The issue of “free handouts” aside, many studies indicate that ensuring students are well fed does help the learning process. An article from Think Progress about the new program points out that one study showed eating breakfast, in particular, is linked to motivation in school and academic success.
Another concern among critics is that many of the meals are wasted. A recent story from NBC Washington indicates that as many as 60,000 students in the Washington, D.C. area are skipping their free lunch. Administrators at the area’s schools believe it is because there is a stigma attached to receiving the free meal.
That stigma will hopefully soon be erased in Indianapolis when every student is offered the same opportunity.