All DC students would receive free lunch under new bill

Virginia is joining the list of states that are cracking down on "lunch shaming," the practice of schools singling out students because they owe money for food or do not have enough cash to pay for lunch. In this Thursday, May 4, 2017 photo, third grader Elliana Vigil punches in his student identification meal to pay for a meal at Gonzales Community School in Santa Fe, N.M. New Mexico in April became the first state to outlaw the shaming of children for any unpaid meals. Now a D.C. lawmaker wants to expand the District's free meal program to all students regardless of a family's income, in part to end "lunch shaming." (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

WASHINGTON — A D.C. Council member wants the District to follow in the footsteps of other major cities, such as New York, and offer free lunch to students.

Under a piece of legislation, called the “Universal Free Lunch for All Amendment Act of 2017,” students would receive free lunch in public schools, public charter schools and also some private schools that choose to participate.

D.C. Council member Brandon Todd introduced the bill this week as the Council returned from its summer recess.

“Currently, almost 25 percent of District students pay for their lunch,” Todd said. “This bill will eliminate that.”

Many students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches under federal guidelines, but Todd said other families report spending around $50 per student each month on lunch.

Students already receive free breakfast in District schools.

“This bill would provide financial relief for families and ensure that all District students are receiving healthy meals so they have the opportunity to succeed,” Todd said.

According to Todd, the legislation will also address “lunch shaming.” He said there is a stigma attached to students who do not have the cash to pay for meals.

“No child deserves to go hungry or be humiliated in front of their peers because they are unable to afford lunch,” said Todd.

The council’s education committee will consider his proposal.

It is not yet clear how much the free lunch program would cost the District. Todd said he is working with the city’s chief financial officer to examine details related to funding.

Todd’s proposal follows an announcement this month from New York City officials that students there would be getting free lunch.

“We know that students cannot learn or thrive in school if they are hungry all day,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Free school lunch will not only ensure that every kid in New York City has the fuel they need to succeed but also further our goal of providing an excellent and equitable education.”

Several other U.S. school districts, including Boston and Detroit, already offer free lunch for all.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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