The state says it will be the first in the nation to make free meals permanent for all public school students, regardless of their family’s income.
Almost 60% of California’s 6.2 million students qualified for free or reduced-price meals in the 2019-2020 school year, according to School Meals for All, a coalition made up of more than 200 organizations that has pushed for funding in the state budget to gain momentum.
Universal free lunch programs ensure no one falls through the cracks and eliminate the stigma associated with qualifying for free or reduced-price meals because of family income, the coalition said.
“California has made history,” Kat Taylor, co-founder of the TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation and co-sponsor of School Meals for All, said in a news release. “As the first state in the nation to adopt universal school meals, California is giving kids a better shot at growing up healthy and ready to succeed.”
School officials across the state also commended the news.
“This is a win for our schools, families, and students,” Kyla Johnson-Trammell, Superintendent of Oakland Unified School District, said in a statement in School Meals for All’s news release.
Trieste Huey, food service director of Fontana Unified School District, said “California’s leadership to feed every hungry child should be a model for the rest of our nation.”
“I have seen how stigma can keep students from eating school meals, even when the alternative is going hungry,” Huey said in a statement in the news release. “School Meals for All will not only eliminate school meal debt, it will provide much-needed relief to struggling families experiencing daily stress and stigma around feeding their kids.”
According to School Meals for All, “the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) waivers that have enabled schools to provide free meals to all students during the pandemic are set to expire at the end of the 2021–22 school year, at which point California’s public schools will be reimbursed for providing universal school meals.”