Seventy percent of the kids in the Buffalo Public Schools get free lunch because their family income is low enough to qualify (making not much more than $24,000 a year for a family of three, for instance) -- and their families fill out the forms and turn them in.
Another 7 percent get reduced lunch. (Those with a family income no higher than about $34,000 for a family of three.)
But what about other kids who might qualify for free lunch, but may be too embarrassed to get it?
"We have children out there, for whatever reason, they're not getting any lunches," he said.
Buffalo's median household income, he points out, is just over $27,000.
The board recently approved a resolution from Hernandez directing the superintendent to conduct a feasibility study by Nov. 16 to look at implementing a universal free meals program in the district.
Over a five-year period, he says, the district posted an average surplus of $700,000 a year in the foodservice program. He wants to know whether that surplus would be enough to provide free lunch to every student, every day.
Other districts have universal free lunch programs. Boston, for instance, offers universal free lunch at many of its public schools.
And this year, various places in Kentucky will be adopting a new approach as something of a pilot program for the federal government. The Community Eligibility Option will allow schools in low-income areas to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students, and ditch the eligibility applications. Two other states will follow suit next year, and then all states will be eligible in 2014-15.
Right now, Buffalo board members say it makes sense to find a way to feed all students.
"I know there are students who don't feel comfortable and don't bring the information back we've requested. However, these students are hungry. They are not going to go into a cafeteria with other students and say here's my card, I need lunch," said Mary Ruth Kapsiak. "But if everyone's on the same page getting a lunch, our students will learn better. You can't learn on an empty stomach."
- Mary Pasciak