Home-School Families Not Eligible for Free Lunch Program

Home-School Families Not Eligible for Free Lunch Program

Lisa Santamore's home is one big classroom.
CRAFTSBURY, Vt. - Lisa Santamore's home is one big classroom.

"There are times that we don't go anywhere for a week," Santamore said.

She home-schools her four kids, who are between the ages of 5 and 12. It works well for her family, except for one thing: they are not eligible for the free meals program because Lisa and her husband don't send the kids to public school.

"We're paying taxes to go towards the school that we don't use," She said.

One of the reasons they don't use the public schools is because two of Santamore's children are autistic. One of them is non-verbal. The Santamores sent their oldest son to public school at first, but it was not successful. Santamore says his behavior worsened, and he wasn't learning.

"The only thing he learned was how to be naughty," she said.

Based on their income, the Santamore family would qualify for the federal free lunch program. After watching a story on FOX 44 & ABC 22 on the expanded free lunch program in Vermont, the kids asked why they were left out.

"It's heartbreaking," Santamore said. "My kids are saying 'we're still kids in Vermont that are schooled, we're just home-schooled.'" They are enrolled in the Home Study program through the Department of Education.

According to the U.S.D.A, it's federal law that excludes the Santamores. The Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act authorize the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.

"There is no authority for the federal funds to support meals served to children outside of schools," Jane Francis of the U.S.D.A. said in an email. "There is no authority for the states to use the funds for any other purpose."

The Santamores do receive other assistance, like the 3SquaresVT program (formerly called food stamps), and the Vermont Food Bank. Lisa says she volunteers at the food bank to give back, since she uses it once a month.

Lisa wrote letters to Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Peter Welch. They wrote back, and were sympathetic but ultimately said they were unable to help.

"If I chose to enroll my kids in school tomorrow, they'd have free lunch," Lisa said. "Why can't they have free lunch?"


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