Vermont expands free, reduced-price school lunch program - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vermont expands free, reduced-price school lunch program

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BARRE, Vt. -

Hot dogs are on the menu at Barre Town Elementary School. And with a new state law taking effect this school year, there's enough to go around.

"And now this sweet deal for families who qualify for reduced-priced lunches," said Tim Crowley, the principal at Barre Town Elementary School.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, flanked by educators and nutrition advocates, announced the implementation of a law that will now provide free lunches for all income-eligible students. While free breakfasts have been around a few years, reduced-priced 40-cent lunches have been the norm, even for families meeting federal poverty guidelines.

"I hope that this is a model for other states to be looking at," Vt. Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca said. "The population of children that are struggling, particularly during these tough economic times-- and as we push and push our children in our schools to do more, one of the things that we can do is to provide them with these simple opportunities to be full and not to worry about being hungry."

The state is paying for the program with $400,000 from the general fund.

Crowley says the effort should be viewed as part of a multipronged effort to boost achievement.

"To make sure that our students meet academic standards, particularly those students who only coincidentally also qualify for free and reduced-priced meals," he said.

"Common sense tells you that kids can't learn when they're hungry and to split hairs between free and reduced lunch population-- to me, isn't worth it," said Brian Ricca, the superintendent of schools in Montpelier.

Across the state, some 40 percent of Vermont students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. Officials estimate the new program will be taken advantage of by upward of 6,000.

"The meal system does not identify anyone differently, so whether they're paying full price or whether they're getting free meals-- it's completely anonymous," said Nina Hansen, the director of food service at Barre Town.

For hungry Vermont school kids-- a new exception to the rule that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

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