June 15, 2021

Will California public schools continue free lunches for all?

Legislators want to spend $650 million a year to continue a pandemic program for free meals for all California public school students. The proposal will be decided in budget talks this week.

Early in the pandemic, the only source of milk for some struggling families was from school lunches. Even for families who weren’t as strained financially, getting meals during lockdown was a chance to get out of the house, and to see teachers and friends. For many, the benefit of meals at schools continues.

Before the pandemic, in January 2020, Glendora USD served more than 35,000 lunches to students. In April 2021, with the return of in-person classes, 50,822 lunches were picked up. The district, where about 29% of the 7,200 students were eligible for free and reduced meals last year, continues to serve take-home lunches to students as it wraps up its school year.

Last week, legislative budget leaders unveiled a deal that includes $650 million for the Universal Schools Meal Program, which would allow schools to serve free breakfast and lunch year-round to all students — no paperwork or eligibility checks required. If approved in budget negotiations this week between the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom, the program would be funded by the influx of state money from taxpayers and federal aid. The state would take over the program — funded during the pandemic with federal money — beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

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