On May 6, 2021

Senate gives preliminary approval to universal school breakfast bill

Vt on track to be the first state to offer breakfast to all

On Friday, April 30, the Vermont Senate approved a bill that would bring universal school breakfast to all Vermont schools by 2022. The bill (S.100) would make Vermont the first state in the nation to provide breakfast free of charge to all public school students every school day. The Senate’s approval will move the bill to the House for consideration.

The Senate also committed to a path to providing full universal school meals (breakfast and lunch) to all public school students by directing a task force to develop a plan to provide universal lunch by the 2026-27 school year. As S.100 is written, the task force would submit its plan to the Vermont General Assembly in January 2022.

According to recent studies released by the National Food Access and Covid Research Team and the University of Vermont, 1 in 3 people in Vermont have experienced food insecurity during the pandemic. Families with children are twice as likely to face hunger.

In March 2020, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture took emergency steps to make school and summer meals available to all children for free, regardless of their family’s income. School nutrition teams across Vermont acted quickly to implement systems to deliver meals on buses and arrange curbside pickups. Vermont was the only state to increase the total number of breakfasts and lunches served in April 2020 when compared to April 2019, according to a Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) snapshot report. The USDA has extended these emergency measures into the 2021-22 school year.

“Hunger in Vermont before the Covid-19 pandemic was already unacceptably high. Today, it’s higher than at any point in the last two decades, including the Great Recession. That doesn’t go away right after the emergency order is lifted,” said Sen. Chris Pearson (P/D-Chittenden). “By passing universal school breakfast, and setting Vermont down a path to full universal school meals, we’re making the health of our kids and classrooms a top priority.”

“When all our kids have regular access to nutritious meals that they can eat together — and when no student is singled out for needing meals or for having school meal debt — they all get a better education,” said Senate Education Committee Chair Brian Campion (D-Bennington). “With S.100’s passage, Vermont will again lead the nation by demonstrating that food is fundamentally linked to educational outcomes.” 

In the 2019-2020 school year, 78 Vermont schools provided universal school meals to more than 17,000 students. More schools have indicated that they are eager to implement the program, after seeing the positive impact that it made for students and for school culture overall, during the pandemic year.

The bill would make universal breakfast available to all public schools beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. Breakfast will be offered at no charge to students or their families, while maximizing federal reimbursements that are available.

The Senate today also indicated its commitment to the full Farm Fresh School Meals for All vision, by giving preliminary approval to the state fiscal year 2022 budget, which includes $500,000 to launch a new local purchasing incentive program for schools to encourage school meal programs to increase their direct purchasing from Vermont farmers and producers.

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