On November 8, 2022, Colorado passed Proposition FF, a ballot measure to provide free meals to all public school students. The measure, called the Healthy School Meals for All Program, was referred to the ballot by the state Legislature and passed by a healthy margin of 57-43%. The measure generates funds by limiting state tax deductions for people earning over $300,000/year, and is set to raise more than $100 million/year. The program will reimburse participating school districts to provide free meals to all students and will provide grants for Districts to purchase local food. According to the Healthy School Meals for All FAQ guide, there is also an option for participating districts to provide wage increases or stipends to front-line staff who assist with the program.
Most Colorado school districts have already opted into the program, but according to ChalkBeat, a nonprofit news organization that covers education, only two have failed to do so: Mesa Valley School District 51 and District 49 in Peyton, an unincorporated town on the eastern plains about 30 miles north of Colorado Springs that had a population of 214 as of 2020. The entire zip code of Peyton has about 22,000 residents.
The idea of offering free meals to all public school students came after two years of pandemic operation during which the federal government waived income eligibility requirements for subsidized meals, which allowed schools across the U.S. to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students, regardless of their ability to pay.
But those waivers ended last summer.
Advocates for the new universal meals program say it will feed more hungry kids and end the stigma currently associated with free and reduced-cost meals that are available to certain students who qualify based on their families’ income, like the program currently offered at District 51. (pdf)
Of Colorado’s 178 school districts, around 130 to 140 so far plan to offer free meals next year, but as of now, District 51 is not one of them.
A frustrated District 51 employee who flagged this problem but wanted to remain anonymous due to an apparent climate of fear happening inside the District, said,
“I am hoping that you can spread the word about the District intentionally not opting in to Colorado’s newest amendment to feed all kids, regardless of their ability to pay. I have attached a link to the Chalkbeat article referenced. I am a current employee in the District, and because of the climate of the last few months I would rather not be the loudest voice in the room, but this move just truly flabbergasts me.
Feed the kids. It is literally as simple as that for me. They are not dollars and cents. They are kids. They have to be in school and we have to feed them.”