A new Montgomery County program incentivizes families to register their students for free school meals by offering creative bonuses for doing so.
The Ready for School Initiative works to “ensure that every student in Montgomery County has the resources they need to succeed.” One creative way that the group is doing so is via a newly launched program to encourage local families to register their Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) students for free school meals.
To incentivize families to do so, the Ready for School Initiative and Montgomery County are providing several “bonuses” for families, including:
- $200 worth of free classes from the Recreation Department (provided by the Montgomery County Department of Recreation);
- Discounts on extracurricular fees (provided by MCPS);
- Reduced-price AP exam fees (provided by MCPS and College Board); and
- Up to a $40 reimbursement for school supplies (provided by Ready for School Initiative).
The Initiative encourages families to do so not only for the benefits of free school meals and the bonuses being offered, but also to benefit MCPS schools. Its website states:
We want to help Montgomery County students learn. Ensuring students have a reliable source of healthy meals everyday means that they don’t have to worry about being hungry and can focus on their education. On a larger scale, the more families signed up for Free School Meals, the more resources for the schools in Montgomery County with the greatest need. The federal government, state government, and Montgomery County Public Schools give additional funding and attention to schools with higher percentages of students signed up for Free School Meals.
To participate, families must follow three easy steps:
- Filling out an MCPS Free School Meal Form
- Share their free meal eligibility letter with Ready for School Initiative
- Receive the bonuses
School meals are a sticking, but tricky policy point
Additionally, free school meals are an ongoing policy debate at the national level, especially as kids head back to school around the country.
In June, Congress voted to pushback the expiration of a federal COVID program that provided free school meals to public school kids around the country — but that didn’t stick. Some advocates want to make that program permanent, however, as NPR reports, that is a hard sell in Washington D.C.
Currently, Massachusetts and California offer free school meals to all students, regardless of their family’s socioeconomic situation. Delegate Kirill Reznik of Montgomery County introduced legislation during the 2022 session that would have done the same, with the State footing the total bill for free school meals. According to the bill’s fiscal note, doing so would have cost the State about $27.0 million in general funds for Fiscal Year 2024, increasing to $51.3 million by Fiscal Year 2027.
That bill did not receive a committee vote.
The COVID-19 pandemic and global economic uncertainty also continue to impact food supply chains and goods, and school districts around the country are finding themselves in a pickle to provide school meals.
In fact, 97% of 1,368 recently surveyed school meal program directors said they were worried about pandemic supply chain disruptions and their ability to provide nutritious meals to students.