The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,580 schools and organisations benefitting 250,000 children at a total cost of €54 million in 2019. The objective of the scheme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them. The programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement.
As part of Budget 2019, it was announced that my department would commence a pilot scheme from September 2019, providing hot school meals in 36 primary schools for an estimated 7,200 children at a cost of €1m for 2019 and €2.5m in 2020.
As part of Budget 2020, I am providing an additional €4 million in funding to extend the hot school meals scheme in 2020 for children currently receiving the cold lunch option. If the full-year evaluation of the current pilot scheme confirms the positive impacts initially reported, this funding will allow my Department to extend the hot school meals scheme from September 2020 to an additional 35,000 children, especially to those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
The additional cost of providing a hot school meal to 35,000 children, who currently receive a cold lunch is €9.5 million for a full school year. The cost of providing a hot school meal to 35,000 children, who do not currently receive a cold lunch would be €18.3 million.
Any further extension of the pilot programme can only be considered in a budgetary context.