California will be providing free school meals to all of the state’s 6.2 million students, regardless of need or family income. This program started last year when California became the first state to adopt a universal program based on the claim that 20 percent of Californians suffer from “food insecurity,” and don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
According to the California Department of Education, “On July 9, 2021, Assembly Bill 130 (McGuire) Education finance: education omnibus budget trailer bill was signed into law by Governor Newsom. Beginning in SY 2022–23, AB 130 establishes a California Universal Meals Program with changes to the state meal mandate and new requirements for high poverty schools to apply for a federal provision, such as the Community Eligibility Provision or Provision 2.”
AB 130 bill analysis said it “Provides $2.8 billion, when combined additional funds appropriated in the budget bill totaling $3 billion, one-time Proposition 98 funding for the California Community Schools Partnership Program.”
AB 130 “Requires local educational agencies to provide two school meals free of charge for grades Transitional Kindergarten through grade twelve during each schoolday, regardless of a student’s eligibility for federally funded free or reduced-price meals, commencing with the 2022-23 schoolyear.”
“Under federal rules, a family of four must make less than $34,000 a year to qualify for free meals and $48,000 to qualify for reduced-price meals,” the AP reported when families still had to qualify for the program. “The caps shift annually but are based on federal poverty measures that don’t take into account the high cost of living and taxes in California.”
Backed by over 200 organizations in a coalition called “School Meals for All,” Democrat lawmakers pushed to fund the program in the state budget. “The $262 billion budget provides $54 million for the coming school year, supplementing funding from the Biden administration through June 2022. After that, California will spend $650 million annually.”
Twenty percent of Californians face food insecurity on a daily basis, according to January 2022 data from the California Association of Food Banks, with Black, Latinx, and multiracial Californians experiencing much greater levels of hunger, School Meals for All reports. This 20 percent number is from a 2020 Institute for Policy Research Northwestern study which said “during the COVID-19 crisis, rates of food insecurity have soared.” The Institute for Policy Research created an app “for visualizing food insecurity data across the nation.”
“Food insecurity” is the occasional or constant lack of access to the food one needs for a healthy, active life, says California Association of Food Banks.
“California’s School Meals For All Coalition, which represents more than 70 organizations that advocate on behalf of public health, education, labor, agriculture, and food banks, commends California’s leadership for understanding the need for, and making transformational investments to increase equitable access to quality school meals,” School Meals for All says.
Most notably perhaps is the support from billionaire philanthropists Tom and Kat Steyer via TomKat Ranch, nextgen California, and Office of Kat Taylor.
The state’s school food system is being funded in the state budget by more than $2 billion in related programming.
What exactly is included in this 2022-2023 budgeted school lunch spending?
- $596 million to implement School Meals for All,
- $600 million for school kitchen equipment and upgrades to school kitchen infrastructure for more fresh, minimally processed, and locally sourced meals,
- $100 million for the California Department of Education, in consultation with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, to implement school food best practices and develop eligibility criteria for California-grown, whole and minimally processed, sustainably grown foods, and plant-based or restricted diet food options that can be purchased by local educational agencies for school meals,
- $611.8 million provided on an ongoing basis for enhanced school meal reimbursements through the state meal program,
- $60 million in funding to expand the California Farm to School Grant program,
- $45 million to support implementation of the California Healthy School Meals Pathway program for school food service workers, and
- $2.4 million for evaluation of the California School Meals for All program.
About 60% of California students qualify, but experts say the number of children who need food assistance is much higher in a state with vast income inequality, AP reported.
Lastly, AB 130 also authorized the California Prekindergarten Planning and Implementation Grant Program as a state early learning initiative with the goal of expanding access to classroom-based prekindergarten programs at local educational agencies, for the sum of $300,000,000 from the General Fund.