EDITORIAL: Free meals for all students improves education – for all

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PHOTOGRAPHER:

Proper nutrition is proving to be a vital tool to improving education.

And we’re not talking about health class.

We’re talking about ensuring that all students be properly nourished so they can be at their best capacity to learn.

Students who have proper nourishment not only see their cognitive abilities, reasoning, intuition, perception and intelligence levels increase, but they also tend to have fewer absences from school, they attend classes more frequently, and they’re better behaved, according to several studies on the subject.

There’s also a social stigma attached to students who get free meals, leading to embarrassment and bullying.

In one New York City study, they found that the stigma prompted one-third of the income-eligible students to forego their free meals just to avoid the shame. Making free meals available to all lifts that stigma.

Having free lunch for all also benefits the district, in that it eliminates the need to administer and manage the free-low-cost lunch system, saving the expense and oversight.

All that adds up to a strong case for making nutrition a part of every child’s education.

In the Saratoga Springs school district, officials are considering whether to continue providing free breakfast and lunch to all students for the remainder of the school year.

The district will be able to afford the program this year with the help of covid relief funds and other savings.

But if the state and federal governments don’t make school nutrition a funding priority, Saratoga Springs and other districts in the same position will return permanently to the old program of low-income families having to apply for free and reduced meals based on certain eligibility requirements — leading to some students not getting the nutrition they need and a return to the social stigma.

One could legitimately argue that not all families need taxpayer-funded breakfasts and lunches because they have the means to provide meals to their children themselves. And many families do provide their children with breakfast and lunch, even with free meals available at school.

But the $1.1 million cost of the full program represents only a fraction of the district’s $137 million budget, so it doesn’t hit taxpayers very hard, especially for such a worthwhile investment in children’s education.

Plus, relying on parents to provide proper nutrition to their children that doesn’t ensure that all students are getting the proper nutrition they need to do their best at school.

Saratoga Springs officials should continue to offer free breakfast and lunch to all of its students this year, and make an effort to find money through grants and state aid to continue the program into the future.

And state and federal officials need to recognize the benefits of ensuring students are properly nourished and set aside money in upcoming budgets to support the ability of school districts to offer the free meals for all students.

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Categories: Editorial, Opinion, Opinion

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