California is officially offering access to free meals to all students in the state’s public schools, a move that has been praised as a long-overdue step towards giving children the resources they need to thrive at school.
“No questions. No stigma. ALL California kids now have access to free meals at schools,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted.
The meals program is included in a $123.9 billion education package that will also expand after-school and summer programs, offer free pre-kindergarten for all kids, and increase staff. With an estimated 6 million kids enrolled in California public schools last school year, this is a massive move.
According to School Meals for All, a coalition made up of more than 200 organizations that has advocated for free lunches for all students, the new measure will provide significant relief to the “nearly 20% of all California households — and 27.3% of Latinx households with children and 35.5% of Black households with children” that reported food insecurity last year.
“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.”
Along with helping combat food insecurity, the new program will also mean no more putting students in school lunch debt, which is exactly as antiquated and horrific as it sounds. Critics say that school lunch debt exists almost entirely to shame students and their families rather than giving them a meal during their long school day.
Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before every student in the United States is given access to free meals at school but hopefully, more states will follow California’s example and provide lunch for all students.