They say there is no free lunch.
Unless you happen to be a student in the Hobbs Municipal Schools.
Beginning next school year, Hobbs schools will be providing a free lunch to every student that wants one.
“Hobbs Municipal Schools will be able to provide lunch to every student within Hobbs Municipal Schools at no charge,” states a letter by school staff presented last week to the Hobbs school board. “The requirement for Hobbs Schools is that each student have a completed Lunch Application. We intend to make this process a component of the enrollment and renewal of information process. A process that each student has completed each school year.”
Hobbs schools will pay for the lunches with money through the National School Lunch Program, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture program.
In the past, students were eligible for free lunch or reduced costs lunch based on financial need. Beginning in the fall, lunch will be free to all students, regardless of income. No sliding scale for purchasing meals and no need to hand over cash for a lunch.
HMS director of operations Gene Strickland said the prior system was difficult for some students who would tally up a bill for lunch — even on a reduced rate — and were all too often embarrassed to admit they didn’t have the money. The student would then skip lunch and not eat at all.
“We do have that student where that pride does get in the way and they will not eat because they do know their parents cannot satisfy that lunch charge,” he said. “So this an opportunity to remove that barrier.”
The free lunch for all also will allow Hobbs to meet state regulations, Hunger Free Student’s Bill of Rights, which calls for students to be allowed to eat every day, regardless of the ability to pay and not be identified in any public way regarding lunch debt. Now, in Hobbs no student will have any school lunch debt.
Students at Hobbs schools have accumulated lunch debts of $67,671 in the 2017-18 school year and $61,796 in the 2018-19 school year.
In addition, Strickland said the freshman and high school students will no longer possibly feel segregated between those in the traditional lunch lines and those eating ala carte. Now both options are free to the students.
“It will function very much like a … mall food court. Students will have those options to eat at any one of those locations during their lunch period, the opportunity to eat at wherever they like,” he said.
Snack bars will still operate but that will be separate from the free lunch program. Strickland noted HHS is smart snack compliant. Everything sold at the snack bar is USDA compliant. This coming school year, they will make the middle school snack bars smart snack compliant.
“So basically the kids don’t have to take lunch money to school,” board member Terry O’Brain said in summing up the program.
“That’s exciting,” board member Peggy Appleton said.
Appleton asked what was the plan to ensure the schools get enough parents and families to fill out the lunch survey so the schools can use the National Lunch Money Program. Strickland said when parents sign up the children for school this coming year, the lunch survey application will be a mandatory part of the process.
Last year, the form was voluntary but part of the process, and Strickland said the schools collected 1,500 more than in prior years so he does not expect it will be an issue this coming year.