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Prince George's County considers free lunch for all students

WUSA-TV Washington, D.C. logo WUSA-TV Washington, D.C. 11/20/2019 Bruce Leshan

Prince George's County schools are considering offering free lunches and breakfasts to every student through fifth grade, regardless of their parents' income.

School Board Member K. Alexander Wallace introduced the plan to the Board of Education on Monday.

He calls it the "No More Shame Act," for the embarrassment he says the students feel when their mom and dad fall behind on their lunch account.

But it would come with a steep price tag.

Advocates say Prince George's could be among the first school districts in the country to make sure every child starts class with a full stomach.

Every parent WUSA9 talked to supported the idea. 

"I think that is very great," Lachelle Staten, a single mom with three children in Prince George's County schools, said. "I think they'll feel as though someone is out there helping them, looking out for them."

RELATED: Changes ahead for Prince George's County schools after teacher, student fight

Children in a family of four making up to almost $50,000 a year qualify for federally subsidized free or reduced-price lunches.

But Wallace said there are still a lot of kids out there at the margins who skip meals or are embarrassed when their lunch accounts are empty. 

"It happened to me when I was in elementary school, and I still deal with it," Wallace said. "I have been the victim of what I call 'the shame sandwich," where my pizza, or my hamburger is taken away and I'm given a cold cheese sandwich. It's something that sticks with me even in my thirties." 

At Suitland Elementary, the principal says teachers and staffers used to reach into their own pockets to buy kids breakfast or lunch. Wallace's plan would buy a free hot lunch and breakfast for every student from pre-K through fifth grade.

But he's still trying to figure out how to cover the estimated $12 million cost. 

"It is going to cost a lot of money," Wallace said. "But I think the costs of not doing it are far greater." 

Wallace said covering the $1.60 for breakfast and the $2.75 for lunch would help make every child ready to learn.

Suitland Elementary is one of just nine schools in Prince George's where a special state program already ensures that every child can get a free, hot, nutritious lunch and breakfast. But there are scores of other schools in the county that are left out.

RELATED: Maryland schools consider returning to pre-Labor Day start

RELATED: Prince George's County Public Schools CEO withdraws re-zoning proposal

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