Proposition providing free school lunches passes in Colorado
By: Sydney Sheffield
During the midterm elections, Colorado voters approved a ballot proposition that will create a universal free lunch system. Proposition FF or the Reduce Income Tax Deduction Amounts to Fund School Meals Program Measure comes because many educators and advocates believe that the cost of living in Colorado is higher than in many other states, resulting in many families struggling to afford healthy meals. The Proposition was approved by 56% of voters.
Proposition FF will reduce income tax deduction amounts for those earning $300,000 or more from $30,000 for single filers and $60,000 for joint filers to $12,000 for single filers and $16,000 for joint filers. It will also allocate revenue from the deduction change to create and fund the Healthy School Meals for All Program to reimburse participating schools to provide free meals to students and provide schools with local food purchasing grants and school food-related funding.
School districts will be required to apply for the Community Eligibility Provision program, a non-pricing meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas provided by The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food and Nutrition Services Department (FNS), to get the federal government to cover the cost of more meals. Rather than asking individual families to fill out applications for free- or reduced-price lunch, the district would use Medicaid and other data to demonstrate student needs. The state money generated by Proposition FF would cover any cost not covered by federal dollars.
During the pandemic, the federal government made lunch free to all public school students nationwide, but that initiative ended earlier this September. California and Maine have since passed bills to keep the program in place. Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and North Carolina introduced bills like Proposition FF. All the bills are still in committee and have yet to go up for a vote. Colorado is the only state that has put the measure onto a ballot.
Currently, districts get federal reimbursement for school lunches provided to students from low-income families. The federal threshold to qualify for free or reduced-price meals varies by family size. This year, a family of four would need to make less than $51,338 annually to qualify for subsidized meals.
“Once this is implemented in our cafeterias, we can provide every kid in Colorado with a healthy meal made with local, Colorado-grown products,” said Zander Kaschub, a school food and nutrition service worker with the Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association and a member of the Colorado Education Association. “With this program in place, we’ll also show that we care about fair wages and good training for school staff — a key piece of this measure.”