Increasing food access in schools is on the menu at the Colorado legislature this legislative session. SB22-087 Healthy Meals for All Public School Students, a bill that would make school meals available at no cost to all students in participating Colorado school districts, is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee this Wednesday, March 2.

Illuminate Colorado enthusiastically supports this bill, which is being led by the Healthy School Meals for All Coalition, due to its capacity to strengthen Colorado families and communities in multiple ways. Ensuring all Colorado students have access to school food at no cost increases the economic security of families, as well as students’ capacity to meaningfully engage in both the academic and social aspects of school.

Existing free and reduced-price meal program income thresholds are far too low to account for all families who need these programs (Figure 1), and only offering free school meals to some students increases the stigma faced by low-income students. Eliminating lunch debts is critical to ensuring that families are able to meet other basic needs and to avoiding perpetuation of stigma for low-income students.

Nourishing Kids and Communities

In addition to providing concrete supports to all Colorado students and families, the bill further strengthens Colorado families and communities by incentivizing the purchase of ingredients from local food systems, increasing wages for individuals employed by school meal programs and offering healthier meal options to students. 

The bill offers:

    • The option to participate in a local procurement grant program that would provide schools with funds to purchase food from local farms and ranches
    • The option to participate in a grant program that would enable schools to  increase their pay for the staff who serve and prepare meals for students
    • Funding for equipment and training to provide students with healthier meals

The cherry on top?

The bill has the potential to increase Colorado students’ and families’ ownership of their school food programs by incentivizing the development of Student and Parent Healthy School Meals for All Advisory Committees that are reflective of the student population and focused on ensuring that meals are culturally relevant, healthy, and appealing to all ages of the student population.

This program won’t be starting from an empty plate.

Currently, all schools are able to provide school meals to any child who needs them as part of COVID-19 federal aid, and school districts that have implemented School Meals for All in the past, as well as districts in Colorado that have implemented it this year, have seen a 20 percent increase in participation when school meals are available to all students.1

Colorado should not miss this proven and timely opportunity to increase families’ food and economic security, all while supporting local Colorado food systems and school food program employees. Contact members of the Senate Education Committee before the hearing on March 2 to urge them to vote ‘yes’ on SB22-087  in order to strengthen the economic and food security of families and communities across Colorado. 

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Citations

1. Healthy School Meals for All Coalition. (n.d.). Healthy School Meals for All: The Time is Now for Healthy School Meals for All Colorado Children. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1JrpGgyRvTHvQOun5Uktko54TkOEU8-QZ/view

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