Pennsylvania Children Now Receive Free Breakfast In School

The Pennsylvania Gov. appropriated a surplus budget to provide free breakfast to schoolchildren this year attending both public and private schools.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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Food insecurity affects more children in America than many might realize. The pandemic uncovered a severe problem in public schools: many children relied on school meals as often their only source of nutrition throughout the day. But this year, federal waivers that made these meals free for all school children nationwide ran out, which meant that the majority of states no longer offered free meals to all students. However, Pennsylvania just joined the small group of states looking to make a change and end stigmas surrounding food insecurity by declaring free breakfast for all children in schools.

Starting October 1st, Pennsylvania children in both public and private schools will be given free breakfast in school. This endeavor was praised by the state’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who was able to make the decision because of a food budget surplus in the state’s education budget. The move solidifies the state’s current viewpoint on free school meals, in what is quickly becoming a growing trend throughout the nation. 

Gov. Wolf made the announcement regarding free school breakfast last Friday in front of a group of students at Steelton-Highspire Elementary school, according to reports from PennLive. Students in that district already qualify for free school meals because of the current federal reimbursement program. However, Wolf told the district that each and every student in the state would now benefit from free breakfast, regardless of whether or not their family’s income qualified them for the program.

Pennsylvania used $21.5 million from money that was left over from the previous school year within the state’s budget for school meals. Because the funds were already appropriated, the governor was able to make the executive decision to provide free breakfast without having to garner votes from the state legislature. However, this also means that this program will only last this school year.

The governor hopes that this statewide initiative will end the stigma around food insecurity, which often means that students go hungry because they might now qualify for free meals because of income levels. To this, his administration noted that more students were well-fed in schools during the national free meals period of the pandemic than in previous years when free breakfast didn’t exist. Last year, 16% more Pennsylvania students reported eating during that period than in 2018 when the state did not give out universal free school meals. 

Those in favor of this move are also hopeful that by providing free breakfast, students will be better equipped to strive and work hard throughout the school day. That first meal of the day is well reported to be linked to student success. It helps children stay focused, and can lead to higher grades and better results on tests. 

free breakfast

Pennsylvania joins a small group of states that have taken measures into their own hands and pledged to give all school children free breakfast and lunch. California also passed legislation this year creating universal free breakfast and lunch in schools. Maine has also joined the initiative, and states like Vermont and Massachusetts may soon follow suit. 

As the urgency for universal free school meals continues on, the calls for mandating federal waivers indefinitely are heard more than ever. Food insecurity is on the rise all across America. Wolf is currently serving his last possible term in office and therefore the future of this new program remains uncertain. However, Wolf’s administration is hopeful that his predecessor will continue the effort to keep up with free breakfast going forward.