As of the 2022-2023 school year, all California public school students will have access to free meals, thanks to the state’s Universal Meals Program. The program makes breakfast and lunch available to all six million students, no matter family income level.
This program makes California the first state in the country to offer a free school meals program as Child Nutrition Waivers, federal waivers that allowed public schools to provide students free meals during the pandemic, come to an end. Combined with inflation and the rising costs of food, the move comes at a critical time for California parents unsure of how they are going to make sure their child has a balanced and nutritional diet.
"Building on the historic budget investments for our California students and schools, Universal Meals is one of seven key pillars for transforming schools designed to help students heal, recover, and thrive while maximizing this once-in-a-generation opportunity to break the cycle of educational inequity, including nutrition insecurity," said Nicholas Filipas, spokesperson for the California Department of Education, told ABC10.
According to Feeding America, an estimated 13 million children — as in 1 in 6 kids in America — likely experienced food insecurity sometime in 2021.
"With the start of the new school year, California has expanded the existing state meal mandate, and now each school day, public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools will make available at no charge/cost to all students (regardless of their individual eligibility) breakfast and lunch," Filipas added.
The program is part of State Assembly Bill 130, which focuses on funding in education. In addition to providing free meals, the bill also forgives any lunch debts for previous outstanding balances on student accounts.
Maine became the second state to introduce a universal school meals plan a day after California legislators first introduced their state’s plan last year.
"Maine children should be able to focus on learning math and playing with their friends, not an empty stomach. By providing free, nutritious school meals, no questions asked, we can ensure Maine kids can focus on being kids," Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, the budget bill's primary sponsor, said in a statement at the time. "No child should have to go to school hungry, especially not in this state."
No child should have to go to school hungry in *any* state. Here’s hoping more states follow suit in providing free and nutritional meals for all kids.