As part of the gradual roll-out of his State of the State proposals, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday proposed a new law to ban the practice by schools of singling out or providing alternative meals to students who cannot afford lunch.
The effort to ban so-called lunch shaming comes as part of a broader proposal that also increases reimbursements to districts that serve meals made with ingredients from New York farms and requires food pantries to be established at all state colleges and universities.
"This program is essential to the success of future New York leaders, and this administration remains committed to removing barriers to healthy food options," Cuomo said in a prepared statement outlining the proposal.
It is not clear how widespread lunch shaming is in Capital Region schools, but a 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that 40 percent of schools nationwide provided students who are unable to pay for the standard warm lunch with an alternative meal, while 3 percent of schools reported not providing such students with a meal at all.
Bills were introduced last legislative session in both chambers aiming to end lunch shaming, but they did not win approval. Cuomo appears ready to put his own political will behind the effort next year. In addition to prohibiting schools from singling out students who can't pay for meals, the lunch shaming ban would also prohibit schools from providing those students with alternative meals, like a cheese sandwich, instead of the lunches provided to other students.
The governor's broader proposal — the 15th announced so far this month — also would require schools in which more than 70 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunches to provide breakfast after the school day starts. Schenectady schools run a "breakfast after the bell" program that provides free breakfasts to all students — in elementary classrooms and through special vending machines at the high school. The governor's proposal calls for $7 million to expand breakfast programs in 1,400 schools.
The governor is also seeking to require all State University of New York and City University of New York schools offer food pantries on campus or provide students access to affordable foods through agreements with outside organizations. Last year, the University at Albany announced a partnership with St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry that would appear to satisfy the proposed requirement.
The school food program looks to expand efforts to bring local foods into schools, with the governor proposing an increase to the per-meal reimbursement — from 5 cents to 25 cents — for districts that purchase at least 30 percent of the ingredients for their lunch programs from New York farms. The proposal also calls for doubling the size of the farm-to-school program, which now serves around 325,000 students statewide.