Center for American Progress

RELEASE: CAP Report Describes the Challenges and Opportunities of Providing Free School Meals for All
Press Release

RELEASE: CAP Report Describes the Challenges and Opportunities of Providing Free School Meals for All

Washington, D.C. — Access to free school meals has proved to improve student health and attendance, reduce disciplinary infractions, and increase test scores among marginalized groups of students. Reported negative effects of child hunger and food insecurity include negative impacts on students’ concentration and academic performance and an increase in behavioral issues. 

A new CAP report highlights the importance of addressing child hunger and food insecurity at the state and federal levels. The report also features a case study on a Colorado school district that implemented no-cost meals for the past three years and how it affected the lives of the members of the school community.

The report’s recommendations for state and federal policymakers include: 

  • Offer free school meals for all public school students. The federal government should consider the Universal School Meals Program Act a blueprint for implementing free school meals for every student. It would ensure that every child in a federally funded school would have hot breakfast and lunch at no cost. Additionally, the act would raise the federal reimbursement rate for school meals to address higher food costs and offer additional incentives for schools that get food from locally grown sources.
  • Expand schools’ capacity to serve meals, particularly meals that make sense for districts’ unique student populations. State and local governments must expand school equipment and nutrition operation grants for districts and schools that need additional assistance to serve students more meals. The federal government can expand existing grant programs that support school nutrition operations, such as the National School Lunch Program Equipment Assistance Grants.
  • Develop new, comprehensive measures of student socioeconomic status to replace free and reduced-price meal eligibility and eliminate the need for school meal applications. To effectively address food insecurity and equitably measure student poverty, the federal government should incentivize states to end school meal applications and collect a broader range of data on families’ circumstances.

“Until Congress and the executive branch enact meaningful legislation to eliminate eligibility requirements and transform school data reporting, free school meals will remain limited to the few, not the many,” said Allie Pearce, a policy analyst with the K-12 Education team at the Center for American Progress and co-author of the report. “Universal free meals are at the forefront of what needs to be done to alleviate the impacts of child hunger and food insecurity.”

Read the report: “Challenges and Opportunities of Providing Free School Meals for All” by Allie Pearce and Anona Neal

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Julia Cusick at [email protected].


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