OLYMPIA, Wash. — A bill that would make school breakfasts and lunches free for all public school students upon request is making its way through the Washington state legislature.
State House and Senate committees held public hearings this week on House Bill 1238 and the State Senate’s companion bill, SB 5339. In addition to free school breakfasts and lunches, the bill would define these meals as part of basic education.
This definition would constitutionally require the state to provide funding for student meals. The bill stipulates that the Washington State Office of Public Education (OSPI) would be required to reimburse districts for meals.
OSPI would also be required to adopt and revise rules implementing requirements for public schools to provide free meals to requesting students. By the 2025-26 school year, it could exempt public school districts from the obligation to provide free meals if the district demonstrates good reason not to do so.
The bill was introduced by Washington State Superintendent Chris Reykdal, introduced in the Senate by Tacoma Sen. T’Wina Nobles, and introduced in the House by Spokane Rep. Marcus Riccelli.
“Access to nutritious food is a key component of children’s health and well-being,” said Riccelli. “Hungry children cannot learn, and by providing a meal to any student who wants one, we are taking an effective and meaningful step to ensure children in our schools do not go hungry.”
A number of studies have shown a link between food insecurity and poor learning outcomes among school-age students. Several studies have…
A body of scientific research has found that children facing food insecurity are likely to struggle in school.
Two existing programs, the US Department of Agriculture-funded National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, aim to address this issue by providing low-cost or free meals to children every school day.
To qualify for free school meals under these programs, a student’s family income must be at or below 130% of the federal poverty line (FPL). Students whose families earn between 130% and 185% of FPL are eligible for discounted meals. Students whose families cover more than 185% of the FPL pay full price.
A press release from the Washington state Democratic Party said the universal free meals would “end the stigma of ‘free lunches’ that exists in public schools, leading to greater access to meals and removing the shame some students feel feel when they use the existing free meals. discounted lunch program.”
“Student success cannot be limited by a family’s ability to afford food. To improve students’ chances of success, we must make investments, especially in their most basic needs,” Nobles said. “This legislation will ensure that our students’ attention is focused on their education and not on where their next meal will come from.”
Several bills designed to strengthen Washington’s school breakfast and lunch program in recent years have garnered broad bipartisan support, including Breakfast after the bell in 2018requiring more schools to participate in the USDA Community Eligibility Program in 2020 and providing funding for more schools not required to participate in the CEP until 2022.