Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Opinion: Free school lunches can help poorer kids learn

Recently, I got a low-balance alert from my daughter’s school lunch account. I thought nothing of it when I clicked the link to add money and give her access to a hot and nutritious meal, including that the account required a minimum $20 payment.

And while I thought nothing of it, many children and their families don’t have that luxury. Some may not have a complete lunch, or any lunch.

Atlanta Public Schools recently stepped up to make a difference. This year, students who attend a district-run or charter school that uses the district’s food service are eligible for no-cost meals. There are 77 Atlanta schools providing free meals to all students.

That means most Atlanta students can eat for free. In 2013, Clayton County became the first metro Atlanta district to offer no-cost meals to all students.

Federal reimbursements are provided for the meals. Supporters say the aid cuts paperwork, lessens the stigma on poor students, and ensures no child goes hungry.

Systems nationwide have grappled with the issue. A Pennsylvania district drew national attention when it warned parents behind on lunch bills that their children could end up in foster care. When a CEO, who had grown up relying on free lunches, offered to cover the cost, the district astonishingly rejected the offer. Ashamed, the district later apologized and accepted the $22,476.

All children deserve to have barriers removed in life.

Metro Atlanta schools offering free lunch to all should be commended. It’s true, children can’t learn if they can’t eat. It’s something that seems so simple, yet it means so much.

Monica Richardson, for the Editorial Board.

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