A new United States Department of Agriculture program will provide free lunches and breakfasts to all K-12 students in the Detroit Public School system and the Flint School District.
The free meal service, known as the "Community Eligibility Option," is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act singed into law by President Obama in December of 2010.
From the USDA:
[The] universal free meal service option...makes it easier for low-income children to receive meals in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The "Community Eligibility Option" will allow schools in high-poverty areas to eliminate the use of applications and provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.
In a statement, Mark Schrupp, DPS Chief Operating Officer, said the program is aimed at eliminating stigma:
"One of the primary goals of this program is to eliminate the stigma that students feel when they get a free lunch, as opposed to paying cash," said Schrupp. "Some students would skip important meals to avoid being identified as low-income. Now, all students will walk through a lunch line and not have to pay. Low-income students will not be easily identifiable and will be less likely to skip meals."
Blake Thorne reports in the Flint Journal that a district has to meet certain criteria to be eligible for the new "lunch for all" program:
The program evaluates the economic eligibility of an entire school or district, rather than individual students, and if 40 percent of the school or district’s students qualify for free lunches, all students get them...
Last year, 81 percent of Flint students qualified for free lunches, according to Michigan Department of Education data from last fall, the most recent figures available.
Education Department figures show about 41 percent of the state’s 1.57 million students qualify for the meals.
The program is in its pilot phase this year and only a limited number of states can participate.
Once a district signs on, they're required to participate in the program for 4 successive school years.
The Community Eligibility Option will be available to all states beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.
In the Detroit News, Michael Van Beek of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, questioned whether the new program is a good use of taxpayer money:
"Under this program, it appears we would be subsidizing school lunches and meals to students who currently don't qualify under the federal program."
Van Beek said there are more creative solutions than giving away meals to everyone at a school where less than half of the students may qualify.
The news reports that "the federal government spent $338 million on free and reduced school meals" in the state in fiscal year 2010.