The state said it would be the first in the country to make free meals permanent for all students in public schools, regardless of their family’s income.
Almost 60% of California’s 6.2 million students qualified for free or discounted meals in the 2019-20 school year, according to School Meals for All, a coalition of more than 200 organizations that requested funding from the state budget to gain momentum.
Universal free meal programs ensure no one falls into the cracks and remove the stigma associated with being eligible for free or discounted meals due to 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 press release. “As the first state in the country to adopt universal school meals, California gives children a better chance to grow up healthy and ready to succeed.”
School officials across the state also welcomed the news.
“This is a victory for our schools, our families and our students,” said Kyla Johnson-Trammell, Oakland Unified School District superintendent, in a statement in the School Meals for All press release.
Trieste Huey, director of food services for the Fontana Unified School District, said “California’s leadership in feeding every hungry child should be a role model for the rest of our nation.”
“I have seen how stigma can prevent students from eating school meals, even when the alternative is hungry,” Huey said in a statement released in a statement. “School Meals for All will not only eliminate school meal debt, but provide much-needed relief to struggling families facing the daily stress and stigma associated with feeding their children. “
According to School Meals for All, “The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) waivers that allowed schools to provide free meals to all students during the pandemic are expected to expire at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, date on which California Public Schools will be reimbursed for the provision of universal school meals. “