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Lamont urged to extend expansion of free school meal program in CT

Students pick up lunch at school.
Lisa Rathke
Students pick up lunch at school.

Some Connecticut lawmakers and school nutrition advocates have urged Gov. Ned Lamont to continue a $16 million expansion of the state’s free school meal program in his 2024 budget proposal.

Ashley Carl, food service director at Plainville Schools, said providing free school breakfasts and lunches not only improves student health and learning, but also reduces stigma and bullying.

“I witnessed one student making fun of another student because they qualified for free meals. And I could absolutely sense his embarrassment,” Carl said “It is heartbreaking watching these children who chose not to eat because of the shame they feel receiving a free meal.”

The goal should be to make free school meals available to all public school students, said state Representative Moira Rader of Guilford.

“We make sure every child has the technology they need, whether it be a Chromebook or an iPad," Rader said. "We make sure that they each have their textbooks. So, are we now going to say that some families are going to be paying for that because they can afford it? No this should just be an inherent right in our public schools in Connecticut.”

The Lamont administration spent $16 million of American Rescue Plan Act money to support the expansion of the federal school breakfast program last year. About 177,000 Connecticut students in 114 school districts benefited. The free school lunch program was also expanded to another 13,000 students.

Lamont will present his proposal for 2024 budget adjustments to lawmakers next month.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.