First day of school brings free lunch and ‘3K For All’

BUSHWICK, Brooklyn — The first day of school always means new teachers, new classmates and new adventures, but this year, the 1.1 million students of New York City Public Schools and their families were met with two major new programs, one of which is getting rave reviews, generally.  The other program's success, however, remains to be seen.

Across all schools and grade levels, free lunch became universal on Thursday, to the general approval of parents who spoke with PIX11 News.

"It's really good," said Barbara Gines, after picking up her first grade son from P.S. 250.  She said that universal free lunch eliminates comparisons among students, economically, "like uniforms do."

"It's so much better for the kids," she said.

Erica Espinal, another parent, agreed.

"That way, every child doesn't have to worry about bringing their own lunches," Espinal said, adding that parents are left with less pressure to buy and pack food for their children.

There's less economic pressure, as well.  Department of Education statistics show that, even before the program was implemented, 75 percent of New York City students qualified for free or reduced price lunch.  All reduced price lunch students were granted free lunch.

As of Thursday, 200,000 more students qualified for free lunch through the now-universal free lunch.  It's a savings of about $300 per year, per student, with each lunch costing about $1.75.

Another plus of the program, from a taxpayer's standpoint, is that it's fully paid for by the federal government.

That's not the case, however, for another new DOE program that began on Thursday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito were all on hand for the rollout of what the city calls its 3-K For All Program.

It's pre-kindergarten for three year-olds, paid for by the city, as an alternative to families having to pay for childcare for children that age.

3-K For All is not for all just yet, however.  It debuted at a school in the South Bronx, where city leaders held the photo op, and at another school in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

The de Blasio administration plans to expand the program to all schools by 2021, the aim of which is to foster more young scholars like Kaalik Nelson, a Bushwick first grader.

When asked what his favorite part of the first day of school was, he answered, "Homework."

Asked to elaborate, he explained that math homework, specifically, is what he looked forward to.  Why?

"Because I like being smart," Kaalik answered.

Producing more Kaaliks may be the aim of 3-K For All, but it currently lacks funding from the state and federal governments.

Some state legislators have said that they cannot in good conscience approve funding for the 3-K program until free kindergarten is available for four year-olds statewide. It is universal for four year-olds in New York City, but in some state legislative districts, only about half of four year-olds' families have access to free pre-K.

That fact did not prevent the very limited rollout of 3-K For All on Thursday.