Vermont Passes Universal School Meals Act for 2022-2023

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
universal school meals act

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
Phone: 802-865-0255

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.

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