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Advocates cheer return of free meals for all Baltimore County students

Baltimore County Public Schools administration building.
Kristen Mosbrucker
Baltimore County Public Schools administration building.

Free meals are coming back for all Baltimore County Public School students, starting with the upcoming school year.

The school system confirmed at Tuesday’s school board meeting the free meals program, but offered few details.

In a text, Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, the founder of the advocacy group Student Support Network, said providing the free meals is “one of the most important developments in years for improving educational wellbeing and outcomes throughout the school system, particularly with the recent spike in student poverty.”

The federal government last summer ended the program that offered free meals for all during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two-thirds of county students are currently eligible for free and reduced price meals. That’s up from about 44% five years ago.

Taylor-Mitchell said there are many other students who currently don’t qualify but whose families are struggling.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, board member Christina Pumphrey proposed putting money in the school system’s budget so all students will again be eligible for what’s called the Community Eligibility Program or CEP.

Deputy Superintendent Myriam Yarbrough told Pumphrey that’s not necessary because the school system found the money elsewhere to pay for it.

Pumphrey wanted to make sure she heard that right.

“I just want to verify the CEP will be implemented in 100% of Baltimore County Public Schools for fiscal year 23-24,” Pumphey said to Yarbrough who responded, “Yes you are correct and you just announced it.”

Charles Herndon, a spokesman for the school system, could offer few details of how the free meals program will be funded except to say it will not come out of next year’s budget.

“We are not at the point yet where we can discuss details as those are still being worked out, but we anticipate being able to announce news about this issue later in the spring,” Herndon wrote in an email.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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