Would free lunchtime meals be possible for all students in Quebec? Quebec’s Ministry of Education has never conducted studies to find out how much this would cost.
Posted at 5:00 am.
The Institute for Socio-Economic Research and Information (IRIS) has done so, releasing its estimate this week: It would cost $1.7 billion each year to feed about 998,000 students in the province.
The idea of offering free lunches to students in the province has come up many times over the years. In 2018, the then-Montreal school board passed a resolution to persuade the Ministry of Education to adopt such a policy across the province.
Last spring, chef Ricardo Larrivee told the Journal de Montréal, “Unless we have a universal program to feed our children in school, we will be missing out.” » The Parti Québécois floated the idea again last April.
However, “the ministry has not conducted any studies on this issue,” confirms Ministry of Education spokesman Bryan Saint-Louis.
A universal school feeding program
For the director of Regroupement Partage, an organization in Montreal that advocates for food security, we need to introduce a universal meal program in schools.
“With the rapid increase in the number of people struggling to eat, we need to stop stigmatizing these students and give them a chance,” says Audrey Renaud.
There are students who arrive with “a leftover hot dog from the day before,” she adds.
It is a necessity to feed our children.
Audrey Renaud, Director of Regroupement Partage
Contrary to what we observe in American schools, elementary schools in Quebec are rarely equipped with kitchens.
Even the program that regulates the design of new schools does not provide for primary schools. It “includes rooms for dinner (primary education) or cafeterias (secondary education),” the Ministry of Education told us.
The Maine Recipe
“Full Plates, Full Potential” has been at the forefront of efforts to persuade Maine politicians to fund free meals for approximately 160,000 students. For the current school year, Maine has budgeted $29 million for this measure.
The COVID-19 pandemic will have at least contributed to that, says its director Justin Strasburger: A federal measure allowed students to eat free for two years.
“It helped us make our argument: Why go back? “says Mr. Strasburger.
While before the pandemic the most disadvantaged students were eligible for free lunch, data shows that up to 40% of students from food-insecure families were not eligible for free lunch, he explains.
We know that young people don’t learn when they are hungry. It increases behavioral and learning problems and has long-term health effects.
Justin Strasburger, Director of Full Plates, Full Potential
Despite a “strong bipartisan coalition,” some argued that the state would now pay for the wealthiest.
“We already pay for books and school transport for families who can afford it. And to a certain extent, I don’t care,” says Justin Strasburger, highlighting the “burden” carried by children who are considered poor.
“There are different levels of food insecurity. There are children who choose to live with hunger rather than be labeled and experience bullying, and that shouldn’t be the case,” says Justin Strasburger.