School Meals in the May Revise
All California kids deserve to learn, grow, and achieve at their fullest potential. Today, Governor Newsom invested in that vision by releasing a May Revise budget summary that includes $150 million in ongoing funds to “encourage local educational agencies to participate in one of the federal universal meal provisions” that allow schools to serve meals free of charge to all students. We thank the Governor for this commitment and urge the Legislature to craft a budget that reflects these priorities.
CEP to Serve Free Meals to All
The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is one federally authorized option for serving meals free of charge to all students. CEP utilizes existing data and a set formula to determine the amount of federal funding schools receive for meals served to students. CEP is an effective approach to fight childhood hunger, mitigate stigma and shaming, prevent school meal debt, reduce burdens on families, and streamline program operation and administration.
Why a State Investment in CEP?
Combining a state investment in CEP with available federal funding will help stabilize budgets for school nutrition programs, increasing the number of schools that operate CEP and preserving the progress that other schools have already made in serving meals free of charge to all students.
Maximizing CEP is an equitable, scalable investment of state dollars. By targeting state funding to the schools and students who need it most, an investment in CEP supports fair access to health, well being, and opportunity.
At least 1 in 3 California schools that are eligible to operate CEP haven’t implemented the option. Why? For many schools, the federal CEP funding formula — which does not account for California’s high cost of living and high cost of program operation — makes CEP fiscally unattainable. A strategic investment of state dollars would allow more schools to offer meals free of charge to all students.
Maximizing CEP for California public schools would draw more than $1 billion in federal funding into our state to nourish students and support school meal programs.
The federal CEP funding formula is tied to enrollment in Medi-Cal and CalFresh. The pandemic has increased enrollment in both programs. Investing in CEP this year means schools can “lock in” higher federal funding rates that are based on currently elevated Medi-Cal and CalFresh enrollment. Those “locked in” rates would be applicable for up to four years of CEP operation.
CEP & An Equitable Recovery
Pandemic-era data show nearly 75 percent of California parents with low and middle income have worried about running out of food before they could afford to buy more. The same research shows more than three in five California parents with low and middle income have actually run out of food before their families could afford to buy more.
The pandemic has exacerbated persistent inequities throughout California. Black and Latinx families and chronically under-resourced communities have borne the brunt of COVID’s devastating health and economic consequences. As state leaders craft decisions about an equitable recovery, they must address equitable access to nutrition programs.
To give all California kids a fair shot at living the lives they deserve, we must meet children’s basic needs. Maximizing CEP is an incredibly effective and vitally important step forward.