District-51 fails to opt in to new statewide program offering free meals to all students

Chart provided by ChalkBeat.

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.

Andrea Haitz, District 51 School Board President and part of D-51’s new 3-member “conservative bloc.” So far the school board has not opted into a new, state-funded, universal program to provide free meals to all public school students.

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.” 

  18 comments for “District-51 fails to opt in to new statewide program offering free meals to all students

  1. I also spoke with Dan at Nutrition services and he stated they would opt in next week, no vote needed. He simply wanted to make sure the district didn’t lose any title funding as a result (since a lot of that funding is tied to reduced/free lunch numbers for individual schools). Great news! I’m happy he is considering all the angles of need.

  2. Hard not to think of the dipping the administration will do though. Free money=more for me rich people. More oversight needs to be done to watch these $$$!

    • I see the lunches and the children eating them. If more oversite is needed, then speak up to them that would arrange the details. Seeing the doubt in the outcome doesn’t feed the children. Public schools used to provide all the books, and other items now left to parents or teachers to buy. Think about that.

  3. I called Andrea Haitz, who responded via text: “the school board is going to be presented with this information next week or in mid-April and I believe we will vote on it. I don’t see why the board would not move forward with this. I will also double check on it to make sure that we’ve not missed this opportunity.”

  4. Great news, assuming it’s true! I just got this message from someone who checked with D-51 Nutritional Services about the status of this. They said the school district has now opted in:

    “Hey Anne,
    I was super upset when I saw this and I called the district office and talked to Nutrition Services and the woman that answered said the district has opted in and is very excited about it and she asked where I got that information that they hadn’t opted in and she wanted me to call her back and let her know. I’m not sure if she is mistaken or what. Just wanted to let you know.”

  5. Nothing matters–nothing–unless we vote. I’ll sign the petition but doubt the recalls will work. The only way to fix this is with viable candidates and voting.

  6. Unbelievable.
    Even if the tax applies to the D-51 superintendent, she will have to pay it. Not feeding the school kids cannot be anything but cruel. Have any of the local news media – like TV and newspaper picked up on this? Can we find ways to spread the word?

  7. “Of Colorado’s 178 school districts *around* 140 plan [to paricipate]…”

    “According to Chalkbeat onl y two [districts] have failed to do so…”

    Seems to be some discrepancy here, but never mind…Andrea Haitz is a b*tch.

    • You could just read the article that Anne linked.

      “ A Chalkbeat survey of two dozen mostly large and medium districts found that 21 plan to participate, and one — Colorado Springs 11 — plans to offer free school meals next year through a different funding mechanism. Two districts, Mesa County Valley 51, based in Grand Junction, and District 49, based in Peyton, remain undecided.

      “Another recent survey of the state’s 178 school districts by the Colorado School Nutrition Association found that about 130 of around 140 responding districts plan to offer free meals next year.”

      So two different data sets. But yes Anne should perhaps clarify that. I’m not sure it warrants your conspiracy mindset.

    • Alice, I thought you may be interested in some more information about why billionaires shouldn’t be allowed to influence educational systems with a very interesting rundown of the billions of dollars being sucked out of our public school systems by the charter school grift. It’s an older article but well worth the read to catch up on the history of the charter school movement.

        • Public Schools don’t enforce religion on children, and while they can definitely waste money, they’re not designed to enrich select private organizations. Grifting through the Public School system takes a lot more time and effort than creating a “non-profit” charter school.

          • I have worked for a nonprofit and have had a family member mistreated in a nonprofit “care facility.” When you realize that the NRA is a nonprofit and the wackiest private schools and churches are nonprofits, you know motives, methods and practices of nonprofits are not sacrosanct.

  8. Haiti couple prob makes over $300,000 a year & so if it applies to them, she will take this action for herself, regardless of how it affects thousands of children or helps school staff — when CO, & West Slope in particular, have some of lowest funding for schools & staff in the US. Or since she’s good friend of Boebert, who now has net worth over $14Million, possibly Boebert asked her not to support this already voter-passed measure.

  9. The Haitz bloc’s inaction on free meals brings to mind the ethos of today’s GOP, which is “I’ve got mine, so **** you!”

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