Students in this city get free breakfast and lunch and library fine forgiveness

US schools rethink meal-debt policies that humiliate kids

Even though New York may not be one of the 10 happiest cities in America, its students are on the receiving end of some pretty great perks.

New York City is the largest school district in the country, with over 1.1 million public school students in over 1,800 schools. In April, New York became the first state in the country to offer free four-year public college. Now, New York City also provides students with free breakfast, lunch and — for a limited time — library books.

Free breakfast

New York City public schools provide free breakfast to all public school students during the school year. During the summer, the Department of Education provides free breakfast and lunch to any New Yorker under the age of 18 through the Summer Meals program.

"Students need healthy meals to stay focused in school, and it is a major step forward that every New York City student will have access to free breakfast and lunch every day," says New York City Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Unfortunately, not all American students have access to programs like these. According to non-profit No Kid Hungry, over 13 million American students go to school hungry and one in five live in food insecure households.

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Free lunch

In September, Fariña announced that all students in New York City will receive free lunch through the Free School Lunch for All program regardless of their income, where they live, or if they go to a public, private or charter school.

In 2016, 75 percent of students qualified for free lunch and this school year, 100 percent of families will be eligible to receive free lunch. The initiative expects to provide 200,000 more students with free lunch starting this school year.

"We know that students cannot learn or thrive in school if they are hungry all day," says 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 for all students."

In other parts of the country, families are struggling to pay off the debt that students incur when they are unable to afford a meal. According to the School Nutrition Association, roughly three-quarters of school districts have unpaid student lunch debt balances.

In December 2016, writer Ashley C. Ford tweeted about lunch debt, starting a movement that has since raised thousands of dollars towards paying off student lunch debts across the country.

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Forgiven library fees

Given that so many students are unable to pay off their lunch debt, it is unsurprising that many students are also unable to afford to pay off their library late fees. In New York City alone, there are over 160,000 children who are banned from borrowing books because they have late fees.

Octavia Loving, a 17-year-old student at Special Music High School told The New York Times, "Learning is a right. Reading brings you to new worlds. They shouldn't block us from reading because of money."

On October 19, all fines were forgiven for children under the age of 18. The one-time forgiveness program is funded by the JPB Foundation and according to a statement from New York Public Library is "designed to encourage children and teens to return to their libraries and check out new materials without the fear of having to pay large, long-standing fines."

"It is unacceptable that families have to choose between dinner and using the library, but we know that this is a reality for many New Yorkers," said New York Public Library President Tony Marx. "This is a real issue in our city and across our country."

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