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Taxpayer Advocates Question Free School Meals -- John Dunn

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- This coming school year all Metro School students will eat for free, but some are wondering if it's wasting your money. That is because even students who can afford to pay will eat a free meal courtesy of taxpayers.

Right now about 72% of Metro students qualify for a free lunch paid for by the federal government. Thousands of other students still pay for their meals, but beginning in August they will eat for free.

Lunch time in the cafeteria is an essential part of every school day, and in Metro Nashville the days of paying for your food are ending. "We're going to be able to offer free breakfast and free lunch to all our students," says Joe Bass with Metro Schools.

Metro Schools is excited about the change. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has determined there are so many Nashville children already eating for free, that everyone should have that opportunity. Metro says all of its students will be well fed twice a day. "No child will ever be singled out for taking free meals. We don't think that any child should be embarrassed for accepting a free meal at school," says Bass.

Metro has a high number of children from low income families. 72% already qualify for a free meal, but in several Metro schools the majority of children pay. Only 19% eat for free at Hume Fogg  High School, 16.6% eat free meals at Julia Green Elementary. At Glendale Elementary, less than 10% of students are eligible for a free lunch, but now the government will pay for everybody.

"There is no such thing as a free lunch. Somebody has to pay for this and it's going to be taxpayers," says Justin Owen with the Beacon Center of Tennessee.
     
Metro Schools estimates taxpayers will pick up an extra $10 million worth of free meals, even for the families who can afford to buy lunch. Tennessee's Beacon Center, which tracks government waste, say that is the problem. "You're adding people who really don't need those goods or services, in this case, don't need a free lunch, because they can afford to pay for it," says Owen.

Metro Schools says this program is a win for everybody because all children will be treated equally. Kindergartners through seniors in High School will eat breakfast and lunch for free when school returns August 6.

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