Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series
Policy name: Universal School Meals Act
Overview: Vermont Governor Phil Scott has signed the Universal School Meals Act, which will provide free breakfast and lunch for all public school students throughout the 2022-2023 school year.
Location: Vermont public schools
Population: 80,488 students (2021-2022)
Food policy category: Food security, nutrition
Program goals: To increase students’ access to healthy meals during the school day in order to improve nutrition and academic performance.
How it works: The universal school meals program allows all students, regardless of economic status, to receive free school breakfast and lunch. Surplus education fund money will be used to help cover the $29 million cost of the program. While this bill covers only the 2022-2023 school year, advocates are hopeful that the program will be renewed beyond 2023.
Progress to date: The bill was introduced in the Vermont Senate on February 26, 2021, and was signed into law by the governor on May 31, 2022.
Why it is important: During the COVID-19 pandemic, federal waivers allowed schools to be reimbursed at higher than normal rates for serving free meals to all students. The waivers, however, are set to expire on June 30, 2022.
Benefits of participating in a universal school meals program include:
- There is no paperwork required to apply for free or reduced-price meals.
- There is no stigma attached to receiving free meals since all students are able to do so.
- School meals provide more nutritional benefits than what many families are able to provide at home.
- Participating students eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains than those who do not receive school meals.
- There are often improvements in students’ academic performance, behavior, and school attendance.
Program/Policy initiated: The bill was signed on May 31, 2022, and will go into effect at the start of the 2022-2023 school year.
Point of contact:
Hunger Free Vermont
Similar practices: California was the first state to pass legislation continuing universal school meals beyond the pandemic, followed by Maine. New York, Minnesota, and Massachusetts have also now introduced, but not yet passed, bills for universal school meals. Colorado will have a proposal on the November election ballot.
Evaluation: Formal evaluation has not yet been conducted, but the bill is supported by many, including teachers, the executive director of Hunger Free Vermont, the project director of Vermont FEED, and the president of the School Nutrition Association of Vermont.
- 10M US Kids to be Impacted When Universal Access to Free School Meals Ends this Summer (ABC 13 Eyewitness News)
- Families Brace for Possible End of Universal Free School Meals (ABC News)
- Finger-Pointing Ensues After Congress Fails to Extend Universal School Meals (Politico)
- FRAC Supports Bill That Would Provide Healthy School Meals for All, Reduce Childhood Hunger (Food Research and Action Center)
- Universal Free School Meals: Comparing Funding Options to Create Hunger-Free Schools (No Kid Hungry)
- Why School Meals? (Hunger Free Vermont)
- An Act Relative to Universal School Meals (The 192nd General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts)
- Assembly Bill A9518 (The New York State Senate)
- California and Maine Lead the Way With Healthy School Meals for All (Food Research and Action Center)
- California Universal Meals (California Department of Education)
- The Case For Universal Free Meals For All: A Permanent Solution (Health Affairs)
- Colorado Ballot Proposal 2021-2022 #87 – Establishment of a New School Meals Program (Colorado General Assembly)
- Free, Universal School Meals to Vermont Students (NBC 5)
- Free US School Lunches Were a Dream Come True. Now, a Hunger Crisis Looms for 10 Million Children (The Guardian)
- Information for HF1729 (Minnesota House of Representatives)
- Phil Scott Signs Bills on Free School Meals, Offensive School Mascots (VT Digger)
- S.100 (Act 151) (Vermont General Assembly)
- S.100 As Passed By House and Senate (Vermont General Assembly)
- Some States Want to Lock in Universal Free School Meals as Federal Waivers End (Education Week)
- Universal Free School Meals (Hunger Free Vermont)
- Universal School Meals Becomes Law (Vermont Biz)
- USDA Invests $100M in School Meal Program Innovation (K-12 Dive)
- Vermont Education Dashboard Enrollment (State of Vermont)