Legislation

Legislature funded one year of free breakfast, lunch for all public and independent school students

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The Vermont Legislature this year approved $29 million in spending from the state Education Fund for free meals for all public and independent school students. The 2023 Legislature will need to decide whether to continue this program, using state funding.

S.100 creates a one-year universal school meal program that provides free breakfast and lunch for all public school students and independent school students who attend on public tuition, the Campaign for Vermont reports.

It is notable that thirty-eight percent of Vermont students during 2019 – 2020 qualified for free and reduced price lunches. Legislators were also reminded that students need fresh and nutritional foods to help them focus on their education. Sadly, they also learned that many students come to school hungry. During the first year of the pandemic, nearly one-third of children in Vermont faced food insecurity.

A report in 2019 found that up to forty-two percent of children living in food-insecure homes were not eligible to participate in the free and reduced lunch program. The legislature learned that school meals support the Vermont agricultural economy and that the meal programs help improve the overall school climate, make financial differences less visible, and improve student readiness.

During the past two years the federal government paid for meals for all students through the pandemic. However, waivers expired this past June, meaning that over 40,000 children could loose access to school meals. It was estimated that a one-year program could cost Vermont up to $29M. Hunger Free Vermont, a non-profit leading a campaign to bring universal school meals to every public school in the state, supports the one-year program and noted that reporting back during a ‘normal’ year might provide a more accurate cost.

Legislators also learned that 55 percent of Vermont students live in households with incomes too high to qualify but are living in households dealing with food insufficiency. The bill will also benefit these students. Section 3 of the bill notes that breakfasts can be either picked up by students or made available in classrooms. Federal school lunch legislation encourages schools to seek the highest level of participation possible to ensure that each student is ready to learn and also requires that schools pursue the maximum federal funds allowed. It also puts a one year moratorium on schools to ask for an exemption from the program.

Section 3 also details how schools participating in community eligibility provisions (provision 2) can access federal funds and allows the Agency of Education to use the universal income declaration form to collect the household income information required to apply for federal funds.

The bill was reviewed and approved as amended by the House Ways & Means, Appropriations and Education committees and by the Senate Education, Finance and Appropriations Committees and signed into law by the Governor. This act requires the Agency of Education to report to the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction and the Joint Fiscal Office to report on potential revenue sources not normally used for general fund purposes.

The bill passed the House 93-33 on a “division” vote. No roll call was held.

Categories: Legislation

10 replies »

  1. Sorry, the children of upper middle class, millionaires & billionaires of this state do NOT need ME paying for their children to eat free food. Once again, in the name of “equity” I suppose – we are giving the proverbial free lunch out to mega millionaires.

    I received reduced lunches in school as a kid – while others received free & most during that era? Paid in full.

    This is another example of P.C. gone awry all whilst grooming us for socialism. NO.

    GO HOME BERNIE! Brooklyn misses you.

  2. This is more of the evil going on in the halls of Montpelier. Grooming children and their families to become wards-of-the-State. Parents – and more often parent – are merely their children’s innkeepers; providing shelter and a place to sleep while the State breeds and molds their children into the State’s perverted design. Montpelier’s audacity is really quite breathtaking. And the vast majority of parent’s acquiescence to this is quite troubling.

  3. no way taxpayers should be providing 2 free meals for every student in Vermont. another example of responsibility becoming dropped by society. if you choose to have children part of the deal is providing for them. welfare for middle and upper class is part of the Democratic party phlosophy

  4. Minimum payment by all students would help reduce the waste of food. How much food is thrown away in this “health” program? Anyone should have at least some skin in the game. Like paying some taxes.

  5. Probably waste of food and money! Many, if not most, children and teens do not want a healthy breakfast or lunch! More like a bag of chips and a Coke!

  6. When I was a member of a town school board, not that long ago, I would occasionally stop into our schools at both breakfast and lunch times, just to get a feel for how well the meals were received by the students. I’m sure that those adults who formulated the contents of the meals would have been pleased to see that the food service companies, hired at tax payer expense, were providing what they thought was a, tasty, appealing, nutritious, organically sourced meal and would smile. For the most part, the kids categorized that food as “bletch!” My visits always included a ‘trash can’ evaluation, and most of those supposedly ‘balanced meals’ wound up headed to compost, and the kids might walk away with an apple or slice of bread to chew on later.
    My point is that the money spent on ‘free’ meals is mostly wasted. An unscientific survey of the kids put chicken nuggets, spaghetti, pizza, and mac n’ cheese, at the top of their ‘okay’ list. Almost everything else was, ah, not well received. It has always been my impression that nutrition program vouchers given to families needing them were supposed to cover the kids’ breakfasts and lunches. Obviously, that’s not happening, and I’ve heard plenty of stories about kids eating their backpack meals, intended for the kid’s evenings and weekends, on the schools steps at the conclusion of a Friday school day. The reason–if the child takes the meals home, their older siblings, or parents, would eat them. Since inclusion in schools seems to be a big deal these days, I would suggest that if the free meals programs are going to continue, and they probably will, then the end consumer, the KID who is served what adults consider a fine meal, needs to be among those who actually choose the menu. Reduce the garbage and give the kids the foods that they will eat. And add chocolate milk to the offerings. It was terribly discouraging to see literally gallons of 1%-no flavor, watery milk, in small cartons, piled in the trash cans back then, and probably still today,
    Just saying…

    • It sounds like you took your responsibility as a select board member seriously as well you should. It would also appear that the parents of these children do not or they would do what is necessary to see that their children are provided for. The burden should not be on me!

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