MCPS School Meals No Longer Free For All Students

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) changed its meal policy for the 2022-23 school year to no longer serve free meals for all students. The bill to keep school meals free, as they were in the 2020-2022 school years, failed to pass in April 2022 in the General Assembly.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity among households has increased, according to the Montgomery County Food Council. In 2020, MCPS began introducing policies to combat food insecurity by making all students eligible for free school meals using greater federal reimbursement money.

Many hoped the federal or state governments would continue funding healthy school meals for all. But for the 2022-23 school year, free lunches just weren’t in the budget.

“Everything is governed by bills that have passed, and the bills that pass provide the funding,” Principal Rhoshanda Pyles explained. “So because there is no allocated funding, as a system, we can’t provide all lunches to be free.” 

In the 2021-22 school year, student meals at no cost came as a relief for many families. Students and parents could avoid stigmatized meal debt during particularly difficult times. 

“Not having to deal with the application process and [free meals] being accessible to everyone was very useful over the course of the pandemic,” SGA President Will Holland said.

But what does this policy change mean for the RHS community? School meals are among the most effective anti-hunger programs, proven to reduce food insecurity and improve economic equity, student health, and academic performance. 

Students not having food will definitely decrease their level of concentration, participation, and energy, senior Janet Egelebo said. 

“When students are hungry, our focus isn’t on the classroom and things we should be learning. It’s focused on what we’re lacking,” Pyles agreed. 

However, there’s debate about whether Maryland and MCPS should move towards free meals. Some states, such as Maine and California, continue to provide free meals for students.

“Ideally, I think it’d be wonderful to continue having free lunches because it’s so convenient. But, realistically, we have to charge students who can afford to pay for their own lunches,” Holland stated.

In the 2022-23 school year, breakfast costs $1.30, and lunch $2.80. That’s about $504 for students who buy full-priced lunches daily and $738 for breakfast and lunch annually. 

Thankfully, there is also a solution for students who can’t afford to pay for school meals. Families within a certain income bracket may still be eligible for free or reduced-price meals through MCPS’ Free and Reduced-Price Meals (FARMS) program. FARMS applications are available online or on paper. The information provided in the application is confidential and may be submitted at any time throughout the school year. 

Even still, many believe MCPS has a ways to go to improve accessibility to affordable school meals.  

“I do think the requirements to qualify for FARMS should be more lenient and a wider range of income should be accepted,” Holland admitted. “I understand why they’re bringing it back as charged, but if they are charging us, I’d like to see better quality food in our lunches.”