GRAND LEDGE, Mich. (CBS DETROIT) - Michigan is only five weeks into a new school year, but school officials in Grand Ledge say that universal breakfast and lunch for all students is already making an impact.
"Students coming in for breakfast, they're able to start their day with a full belly and ready to learn," said Scott Millbrook, assistant principal at Hayes Intermediate School in Grand Ledge. "We've seen anecdotally about a 30% increase in the number of students accessing the free breakfast, and we're already seeing the benefits from it in the classroom."
This year's universal breakfasts and lunches were funded by an allocation of about $160 million in the state budget that passed over the summer. Millbrook said the change is about more than full bellies; it helps to address food insecurity and any stigma around a free or reduced lunch.
"We know there are students that suffer from food insecurity that we might not even know about, so having that option out there to all students is very, very important," Millbrook said.
For the moment, access to universal meals is not a permanent program and has funding for only the 2023-24 school year. There is a bill in committee in the Michigan Senate to make it permanent. A move school officials said would be a welcome change.
"In looking at our priorities, having kids fed so that they're healthy and able to learn is a really important piece of our work. So moving forward, as we look at priorities for school funding, if we can continue this program and maintain funding for all the other programs that we need to, I think it is a great thing," said Bill Barnes, superintendent of Grand Ledge Public Schools.
State Sen. Dayna Polehanki is behind the push in the Senate to make universal meals permanent in Michigan. She took to X following the bill's introduction, noting through her own experience as a school teacher, saying, "how distracting it can be for students who complain of hunger while they're trying to learn."
It's difficult to measure the direct impact of this change in this second month of school, but Barnes says all indications show a positive result.
"We don't have a direct correlation in terms of student achievement yet. But I do know that all the research shows that when kids' basic needs like meals are being met, they're much more successful in the classroom," he said.
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