This state has become the first to launch a program that offers universal school meals to every school child, regardless of income.
All across the nation, families and school leaders are bracing for the fallout from no longer being able to offer free school meals to children. The pandemic highlighted massive food disparity throughout America and proved that many children were dependent on free school breakfasts and lunches, often as their only source of nutrition throughout the day. Now taking matters into its own hands, California just made history as the first state to launch its own universal school meals program.
Starting this fall, every school child in the Golden State will have the availability to eat breakfast and lunch at no cost, regardless of the school’s location, or their family’s income. Gov. Gavin Newsome signed sweeping legislation into law creating this universal school meals program that provides free meals to all K-12 grade public schools. Setting precedent, California is the first of its kind in passing this type of legislation, and many progressive states are set to follow suit.
Last year, federal programs allowed schoolchildren throughout the nation to have access to free school meals without stipulation. However, congress failed to renew these child nutritional waivers last spring in a bipartisan omnibus package. Instead, this past June, President Biden signed the Keep Kids Fed Act of 2022. However, this measure only increased the number of federal waiver funds made available to districts that qualify for free or reduced-priced meals. What it did not do was extend universal school meals throughout the U.S.
According to reports from USA Today, Erin Primer, the director of food and nutrition services for the San Luis Coastal Unified School District in California said that universal school meals would be “life-changing” for students. Nearly one in eight children face hunger issues throughout California. Now, those children are guaranteed two meals a day during not only the school year but throughout the summer months as well.
Funding for this universal school meals endeavor comes straight out of the state’s education budget. Other than public schools, it also will cover charter schools as well. Altogether, this landmark initiative will affect roughly six million school children.
As more and more school leaders and state officials notice the impact that free school meals had on children’s well-being, the notion to offer universal school meals is gaining traction. Plenty of major cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago offer free meals to all students. Likewise, Maine will be the second state to adopt this measure, as they also are set to offer free meals without stipulation to all public school students at the start of this school year.
Last April, K-12 Dive reported that many other states are considering legislation that would make universal school meals free for all students. Vermont, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Colorado, and New York are all considering similar programs. Given the tendency of support towards these measures across party lines, more states are likely to join the movement in the near future.
Public schools are meant to serve students throughout the majority of their waking day. Because of this, it is important to make sure that every student is given the opportunity to receive nutrition during this time. An estimated 17 million American children struggle with hunger. Universal school meals can help put a major dent in that figure.