Final budget includes middle school free lunch, small-schools sports funds

Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito agreed to a $75 billion budget on Thursday that includes $6.25 million to provide free school lunch to all middle schoolers starting this September.

City Council members had called for the city to provide free lunch for all students, which would have cost the city roughly $24 million, in an effort to reduce the stigma attached to receiving free or reduced-price lunch. But the city balked at the idea, which they said could jeopardize federal subsidies for schools with a high proportion of students from low-income families.

At a press conference announcing the budget deal, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said she hoped the middle school compromise would be the beginning of a broader roll-out.

“The chancellor has a very thorough comprehensive vision about how she wants to approach it, but we want to give her a chance to implement it,” Mark-Viverito said. “And we believe that we will see true success, and that we’re going to be able to then take it to the next level in the upcoming years.”

The compromise continues the administration’s intense focus on the middle school grades, a period when many students begin to fall behind academically. De Blasio announced earlier this week that 562 schools will offer after-school programs for middle school students next year, up from 231 schools this year.

The budget doesn’t provide the $1.25 million that the City Council had requested for the Small Schools Athletic League, which founder David Garcia-Rosen has said is necessary to support the organization. But it comes close, thanks to $825,000 from the City Council.

The small-schools league, founded to ensure that students at the city’s small schools have equal access to sports teams, has been funded by principals in the past, though the department provided a $250,000 grant this January. This year, the city proposed incorporating that league into its general school athletic program, but the small-schools officials argued its players would not be adequately served by that league.

Garcia-Rosen had threatened to disband the league if the city didn’t fork over the funding. The league had already scheduled a protest rally for next Monday, which Garcia-Rosen said they would now use to celebrate their funding victory.