California is introducing a Universal Meals Program throughout the state.
Students from kindergarten to the 12th grade will benefit from the program by getting free breakfast and lunch every day they attend school.
Additionally, the program will apply to students in public school districts, county offices of education, as well as learners in charter schools.
The food program is set to start during the 2022 to 2023 school year.
The free school meals have become a reality in the state after Assembly Bill (AD) 130 was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2021. The law includes a provision for a meal program.
According to the Department of Education, the law puts in place a California Universal Meals Program. The bill also introduces changes to the state meal mandate.
The bill also introduces new requirements allowing high-poverty schools to apply for a federal provision, such as Community Eligibility Provision, otherwise known as Provision 2.
As far as the department is concerned, nutritious meals are essential in helping students succeed.
In the past, students had to qualify for free meals based on income caps. The limits changed on a yearly basis according to federal poverty measures.
In 2021, it was reported that students from a family of four would get only three meals if the family were making under $34,000 a year.
Families earning less than $48,000 would get meals at a reduced price.
The director of food and nutrition services at the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, Erin Primer, applauded the move to introduce free school meals.
Primer called the move "historic" and described it as "beyond life-changing."
Primer pointed out that introducing the new law had "completely leveled the playing field when it comes to school food."
Officials in Maine greenlighted a similar program after California signed the bill into law. Maine's program will come into law this year.
A spokesperson for the nonprofit organization, School Nutrition Association, Diane Pratt-Heavner, claimed that there had been a "big push" to introduce free meals. This was because federal waivers expanding the access children had to food during the COVID-19 pandemic were expiring.
A school nutrition director, Mary Emerson, told the media that she had witnessed kids in cafeterias not "eating a meal" in the past. Emerson said that parents of some of these kids would be upset if their kids ate lunch at school because it was more than they could afford.
She revealed that she has always felt that school meals should be free for all students.