According to new data from the USDA, during the average school month in fiscal year 2012, 18.7 million students in U.S. high schools and grammar schools were given completely free lunches, courtesy of the department’s National School Lunch Program. That was up from the record of 18.4 million that was set in fiscal 2011.
Back in 1969, the average monthly number of schoolchildren getting free lunches was only 2.9 million. As recently as 1990, it was only 9.8 million.
In addition to giving away completely free lunches, the National School lunch program also gives away partially subsidized lunches—or what it calls “reduced-price lunches” and “paid lunches.”
When a student buys a “paid lunch” at a participating school, federal taxpayers are required to subsidize that lunch by $0.27, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. When a student buys a “reduced-price lunch,” taxpayers are made to pay $2.46. When a student takes a “free lunch,” taxpayers are made to pay $2.86 cents.