Summer is over and as the new school year begins, California is implementing new laws that bring us closer towards making school meals an educational resource available to all students. This year, as children return to school, more than 340,000 students will take their seats in charter schools where they should finally have guaranteed access to at least one free or low-cost meal each day. In addition, more than 1.8 million children will return to traditional public schools where all students can eat for free.
Last year, Jasmine, a young student and a powerful advocate, testified in front of the California Senate Education Committee to share her experience of attending a charter school that did not offer any free or reduced-price meals. Speaking in support of AB 1871 (Bonta, 2017), Jasmine recalled having to sit through some lunch periods without food. The bill, co-sponsored by California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA), the CA State PTA, the CA Teachers Association, and the Western Center on Law & Poverty, goes into effect this school year. That means no eligible charter school student should ever have to get through the school day without a nutritious meal. AB 1871 isn’t the only new law bringing more meals to California students this fall.
Thanks to the passage of SB 138 (McGuire, 2018) more schools than ever before are serving two free meals each day to California’s students. SB 138, sponsored by CFPA, removed the hassles of school meal applications by paperlessly enrolling income-eligible students participating in Medi-Cal directly into free and reduced-price meals and by calling upon very high poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch free to all students—known as universally free school meals. Thanks to the passage of SB 138, in the 2018-2019 school year more than 1,000 school sites moved to take advantage of federal flexibilities that enable them to serve free meals to all students without the need to collect individual school meal applications, bringing the total number of school sites providing universal school meals to about 3,000. Now over half of all California’s public schools are hunger free! These changes come at an important time.