NY1 News and NYT report that all 1.1 million students in New York City are now eligible for a free breakfast. To offset this, there will be a “slight” hike–of 50 percent–in the prices of school lunches (although, still, only to $1.50) for those not eligible for a reduced-price lunch. However, the increase in the price of lunches is apparently to get more people to apply to get the subsidized lunches.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke about the breakfast change during his weekly radio address.

“The kids who come to school without a decent meal in his or her stomach, they don’t learn anything,” said the mayor. “People say, ‘Why give the kids breakfast?’ Well, if you want to educate the kids, which is in everybody’s interest, they have to have a meal too.”

I suppose it would be out of the question to have the parents feed them?

I certainly don’t have any problem with giving free meals to kids whose parents are struggling to feed them. But NYC is an incredibly affluent place for the most part. So, why not either 1) continue to target the free meals by income or, if stigma is considered an obstacle, 2) limit the “everybody eats free” program to the schools or school districts in the city in less affluent neighborhoods?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tom says:

    The affluent would never let their children attend New York Public Schools. It is that simple. The quality of the schools is so poor that those that can afford a city lifestyle will also budget for the private school.

  2. joy says:

    I think this is a good idea and I believe some of the elementary schools around here do it too.

    But for your question as to why provide for all kids, the answer is simple. If you give *some* kids a meal, then all kids will want to eat, especially at the elementary level. I witnessed this phenomena occur this summer when my daughter was in day camp. Even though she had a very nutritious lunch and snack packed for her, she wanted to have what the other kids who were getting subsidized meals were having. Not to mention the fact that some kids were being sent to camp with absolute junk and the subsidized lunch was better for them.

    In terms of breakfast, how “fair” (I mean in the eyes of a 2nd grader) if you ate an hour ago then came to school to see others eat? At least at lunch, the difference of bringing your own and getting a school provided lunch is accepted somewhat.

    In terms of logisitics, this approach is better, since all kids will have a guaranteed meal and administratively, the only accounting the teachers and the NYC Board of Ed has to worry about is the lunch program.

  3. James Joyner says:

    One would think the same kids who qualified for lunch would qualify for breakfast, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to administer. And, if I’m understanding correctly, the breakfast would be before school starts, so the “breakfast club” would arrive before those whose parents feed them. I dunno. Seems odd–not to mention expensive–to me.

  4. Teri Lester says:

    The school receives a subsidy from Uncle Sam for each meal it prepares, but only if the kids eat them. My guess is that with economies of scale yada yada, that the school district makes money (or at least continues to have enough money for cafeteria personnel and other overhead) if more kids eat the meals. There is likely some element of federal rules that allows them to waive charging a fee for breakfast, even though the guidelines are very strict for lunch.

    One of the silly aspects of this is that if schools have to close early – weather, broken pipes, civil defense emergency – they feed the kids lunch before they let them go home. See, they have to start cooking at 5:00 a.m. in order to have it ready at 11:00, and if they send the kids home without eating – Uncle Sam says, sorry, too bad, so sad, no reimbursement.

    So, picture it: the snow is coming down furiously, the buses are waiting to load, and the teachers are desperately shoving lunch in the little kiddies’ mouths on their way to the bus . . .

    Boy, you just gotta love federal subsidy programs.

  5. mark says:

    Your idea equals so much common sense that it is an impossibility that the politicians would be capable of adopting it.

  6. James Joyner says:


    Good point. I forgot about the skewed incentive system, foolishly thinking the local govt. was paying to feed kids in their schools.

  7. Meezer says:

    To add to the fun, how long until someone sues the school for fattening his kid? (I’ve seen those breakfasts)

  8. Teri Lester says:

    The other thing I just realized (after re-reading the article) is that the unsubsidized lunch used to be $1.00 in NYC, vs. 40 cents for those getting it subsidized. (It’s $1.75 here in Kansas.)

    There are three tiers:

    1. free, for the REALLY poor familes,
    2. subsidized, for the working poor [up to about $35K for a family of 5]
    3. unsubsidized, everyone else.

    It appears that Bloomberg is targeting the middle, the people who qualify for the subsidized lunch, by raising the unsubsidized price to $1.50.

    When the lunch is $1.00, plenty of parents, faced with the choice of paying an extra sixty cents a day versus having to fill out nosy and intrusive paperwork, might choose to pay the extra money rather than the paperwork. (If you read carefully, you are then supposed to inform the school twits EVERY TIME your income changes – horrendous fines if you don’t, etc.)

    Bloomberg is hoping, and it’s very scuzzy, that if people have to pay an extra $1.10, they will put up with the paperwork needed to get the subsidy. So he’s saying, ha ha poor person who is trying to have some scrap of dignity, here let me snatch it away from you!

    It is, if you don’t mind the digression, another item that makes it difficult for people to make the transition from government charity to self-sufficiency. We qualified for (and took) the free school lunches for several years. When we no longer qualified for the subsidy, our lunch cost jumped from $6.00 per week for three kids to $26.35 per week. That’s a pretty steep increase just because Dad got a fifty-cent raise.

    I tried to send them to school with sack lunches – for $26 bucks a week we could do some pretty nice food – but eventually the kids begged for the school lunches and we gave in. (The autistic child was trying to snatch other kids’ fries, so the school asked us to send money to give him school lunches, and since he was getting them, we couldn’t exactly tell the other two to suck it up and take PBJs. I mean we could have, but we’re not like that. Also, we could have told the school to suck it up and teach him to eat his own meal, but that’s a whole nother struggle there.)

    Ah. School lunches. I could go on and on . . .