Chinese Parents More Concerned with Quality of School Lunches Than Cost

School lunch fee increases would burden many families. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his plan to increase public school’s lunch prices as a way to address the budget deficit next year. Although the City Council has not yet voted on it, the proposal has stirred concern among education activists and parents.

In Chinatown, many students may not be affected by the boost in lunch fees because most of them come from low-income families eligible for the free lunch program. Still, some Chinatown parents are more concerned with improving the quality of the schools’ lunches than the proposed price hike.

Due to Hurricane Sandy, the federal government has allocated special funds to New York City, giving every public school the money necessary to provide students with free meals, but only for 11 months.

New York City’s budget deficit for next year is projected at $2.5 billion. Mayor Bloomberg plans to increase the city revenue by increasing the student’s meal fees and installing Muni-Meters in lower Manhattan, measures that will decrease the deficit by $150 million.

According to this plan, the lunch cost for students would increase to $2.50 from $1.50, adding about $4.4 million to the city revenue this school year and $8.8 million next year. The city insists that the increase is necessary because of higher cost of food and new federal nutrition guidelines.

Many education rights organizations are unhappy with the proposal. The Education Law Center said in a statement on November 19 that Bloomberg should not look at the children as part of the solution to the city’s budgetary challenges, especially while the city is in the midst of reconstruction right after a hurricane.  Many families lost their homes in the storm and increasing lunch costs would cause these families to take on more economic burdens.

In Chinatown, many students come from low-income families eligible for free lunches. Because of this, the increase in lunch fees may not affect them. Some schools have been approved for school-wide free lunches because the majority of the students come from low-income families.  Yung Wing School is one such example.  Principal Alice Hom said the whole school has received free lunches for six years and the proposed increase would not affect them. “Otherwise, the $1 increase would be a heavy burden for many Chinese parents,” she said.

Many Chinese parents believe that although the lunch cost increase may be inevitable, the Department of Education should consider improving the quality of the food after the price is bumped up. Ms. Chen’s daughter attends Brooklyn Technical High School and even though the school provides her lunch, she still brings homemade meals because she doesn’t like the school’s offerings. “I can’t praise the school’s cooking,” she said. “Many children don’t like the food.”

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