Most Connecticut students to get free breakfast this school year
When they head back to class in a few weeks, most Connecticut students will get a free breakfast each morning – thanks to a $16 million investment announced Monday morning. The one-time money comes from federal American Rescue Plan funding.
Thousands more will qualify for free lunches too, but the expansion falls short of what child hunger advocates pushed for.
“I’M HUNGRY AND I NEED FOOD”
Educators said hungry kids struggle in school.
“I ask them, ‘What do you need?’” said Georgina Rivera, the principal at Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford. “And so many times, the answer is, ‘I'm hungry and I need food.’”
Because of the expansion, nearly 200,000 students will get at least one no-cost meal at school.
For the 2023-24 school year, breakfast will be free at almost every school that serves it. In our area, the only exceptions are New Canaan, Darien, Wilton and Westport – because they don’t participate in the federal School Breakfast Program.
As for lunch, 13,000 students who currently pay a reduced price will now pay nothing.
“A family of three children, breakfast and lunch, will be saving $378 for the entire school year,” said Connecticut Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker.
FREE MEALS FOR EVERYONE?
During the height of COVID, all Connecticut students ate for free. But that program ended at the end of the 2022-23 school year, once federal and state funds ran out.
School leaders said universal meals made a massive difference.
“They were doing better in school. They were paying more attention,” said Kristina Roberge, Groton Schools’ food service coordinator.
Advocates unsuccessfully pushed to make universal meals permanent, but the hefty $90 million price tag proved too high for state budget-writers.
As for next year, Gov. Ned Lamont is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“The federal government is stepping up, and they're looking at what they want to do, in terms of, on a national basis – how they take the lead,” he said. “So whatever we do, we do in close coordination with the federal government.”
James Vanovitch, of Darien, has two students in school. He said that feeding every child is worth the extra money.
“That should be a right for every child, to have a meal, you know, as and when they need it,” he said. “Feeding kids versus paying an extra piece of tax, really doesn't bother me.”
In 55 school districts, including Norwalk and Bridgeport, all students already get free meals through a separate federal program.