As anyone who has spent time in a classroom knows, a student learns better on a full stomach.
A June 2013 survey of K-8 public-school teachers across the nation reveals that 40 percent of those surveyed considered hunger a serious problem in their classrooms. Fifty-six percent said that many or most of their students depended on school meals as their primary source of nutrition.
Maryland's Hunger-Free Schools Act, set to take effect today, will make it possible for entire schools and school districts to provide free meals to students.
Maryland Delegate Keith Haynes told WMDT 47 that many students eligible for free lunch programs “choose not to participate because of the stigma.”
Lawmakers reason that this embarrassment could be eliminated if schools were to provide free meals to the entire student body.
The bill comes five years after President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, which increased per meal reimbursement by six cents for national school lunch and breakfast programs and introduced the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, high-poverty schools and school districts in all states were eligible to participate in the CEP. Eleven states have so far implemented the CEP, including Maryland, with its Hunger-Free Schools Act.
The act also eliminated individual applications for meal programs. Instead, at least 40 percent of the population of participating schools must qualify as low-income.
In Wisconsin, Milwaukee Public Schools implemented free lunch and breakfast at 156 schools, under CEP.
Milwaukee Public Schools Acting Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver told Fox 6, “Having every student come to school well nourished and ready to learn is absolutely critical to students’ well-being – and it’s critical to our work to improve student outcomes ... Children who are hungry can’t concentrate on learning. They’re focused on their hunger. We’re proud to help lead the effort to ensure that doesn’t happen"
Maryland had operated pilot programs that were successful in the 2014-2015 school year, and looks to expand the program to other eligible schools.