Pandemic-Era Free School Lunch Program Ends


Children eating school lunch | Image by Shutterstock

After two years of free lunch at Texas public schools, districts will resume charging students after the federal government did not renew a program that offered “free” lunch at public schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now school districts are reminding students and parents that the federal-taxpayer-funded “free” lunch is over.

However, while the COVID-induced program expired over the summer, students whose families fall below a certain level of poverty are still eligible to receive lunch for free or at a reduced price through another federal-taxpayer-funded program.

Fort Worth ISD, among other North Texas districts, told parents via text and email that they would need to prepare to pay for school lunches or sign up for the preexisting federal-taxpayer-funded free or reduced school lunch program.

“It’s usually more economical for them to buy a lunch at school than it is to pack that lunch,” claimed Joseph Coburn, Fort Worth ISD’s chief of district operations, speaking with CBS News.

He told the news outlet that his district would be reverting pre-pandemic school lunch pricing, with elementary school lunch priced at $2.00, middle and high school lunches priced at $2.75, and federal-taxpayer-subsidized reduced pricing at $0.40.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has guidelines for determining whether a family is eligible for free or reduced lunches.

Coburn said 85% of his district’s students are eligible for free meals. Additionally, federal-taxpayer-funded programs for low-income areas will provide free meals for all students at 120 of the district’s 140 campuses.

While parents must complete the proper paperwork to be eligible, Coburn stressed that no child would go hungry, “No child goes without a meal in FWISD. If you can’t pay that day, we’re still going to make sure you get that.”

FWISD’s first day of school is Monday, August 15, but applications for free meals will remain open into the year.

While Fort Worth ISD and other districts no longer have free meals across the board for all students, Dallas ISD will continue to offer such programs. All students, “regardless of family income,” will be able to receive free breakfast, lunch, after-school meals, Saturday school meals, break meals, and summer meals.

However, as recently as March, students staged a walkout of a DISD high school to protest food conditions such as moldy food, rotten fruit, and discolored meat.

Dallas Council Member Adam Bazaldua slammed the district’s failure to provide non-spoiled food, explaining, “This is incompetence at its finest and it is at the expense of children’s health.”

Furthermore, Dallas ISD has struggled to enable students to keep up with state and national educational metrics.

STAAR scores for Dallas ISD during the 2020-2021 school year fell behind the statewide average. Across the board, only 60% of Dallas ISD students received scores of “approaches grade level,” 9% less than the state median.

Additionally, a four-year longitudinal study on the class of 2020 showed that only 82.8% of the district’s students graduated high school on time, compared to a statewide rate of 90.3%. For its part, 87.7% of Fort Worth ISD’s class of 2020 graduated on time.

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