Pricey school lunches worry HCPSS students

Edwin Wu

During the pandemic, Howard County Public School Systems provided free lunches to all students regardless of income. However, for the 2022-2023 school year, HCPSS is charging for school lunches due to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) withdrawal of federal waivers. 

According to recent data by the School Nutrition Association, the national average cost of a high school lunch is about $2.74. Lunches are $3.30 at HCPSS middle and high schools, however, a more than 50 cent difference. Other counties in Maryland have cheaper school lunches; in Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS), lunches cost $3.00, and in Cecil County, lunches are $2.90. 

Though lunch costs seem to fluctuate in Maryland counties, there is a general percentage of increase. For example, in Prince George’s County, there has been an 8% increase in school lunches in the past two years, based on reporting from Time. In Baltimore County, high school lunches increased nearly $2.

The cost of school lunches is problematic for many students because they are on the borderline of eligibility for free or reduced lunches with the added factors of inflation and economic uncertainty.

Due to these worldwide issues, junior Nivi Srinivas believes that school lunches should be free for students who really need it, but that it is unrealistic for HCPSS or the government to sustain free lunches for everyone. Srinivas explained, “I think making lunches cheaper, rather than free, would enable more people to buy lunch when they need it.” 

Junior Srinidhi Gadiyaram holds a similar opinion, stating that as many students depend on free lunches, it would make sense for them to be universally accessible. “There could be extraneous factors stopping their lunches from home, or they or their family did not have enough time to put lunch together,” she said. Furthermore, she added that “they all deserve to be fed no matter if they have the money or not.” 

Gadiyaram thinks that funding should come from various fundraisers to ensure quality food that would be universally available and free for all students regardless of income. 

Another anonymous person shared their feelings that school lunches should be universally free. “It is necessary for human survival.” They also believe that school lunches for all students should be funded by the state government, as they are responsible for students’ education and well-being. 

Srinivas shares that the people who would be impacted the most are families with financial insecurity. Many students who need free lunches do not actually get it whether it is due to shame or maybe parents who simply do not have the time to register for free or reduced school lunches. She believes that there should always be an option for reduced or free lunches available to all students. Similarly, Gadiyarman believes that lower-income students would be most impacted. She suggests free or reduced lunches should be only offered to those who cannot afford them. Some students may need free school lunches but are on the boarderine of qualifying. 

“Students that need free lunches will be at a significant disadvantage,” Srinivas said.  

Junior Sumedha Shastry also shared her views on the school lunch situation and firmly believes that it should be universally accessible to every student in the county and community regardless of their income and class. She also acknowledges the threshold factor similar to Srinivas.

“I feel like even for people who can afford it, it’s good if [school lunches are] free because it makes everything equal… allowing everyone to have it makes it so that everyone is happy…because if one group is favored it may make it seem like it is not fair for the other group,” Shastry said.  

She believes that by making all lunches free, it would prevent disputes over who gets it and who does not as well as aiding those who are in the gray area of obtaining free or reduced lunches.

In terms of funding, Srinivas believes that the federal government and the county should help contribute money to assist students who cannot afford school lunches. Which HCPSS seems to have accounted for, as according to them, there are options for free and reduced meals based on family income. Today, there are many issues that persist and may prevent students from obtaining a free school lunch, including inflation, unemployment, and general economic struggle in the world. 


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