September 23, 2023

Home Invoice 1967 would have required Virginia faculties to offer free breakfast and lunch to all Ok-12 public faculty college students. It did not cross through the 2023 Basic Meeting session after the Republican-controlled state Home blocked the invoice.

As households struggled with increased meals prices and the tip of pandemic-era packages that provided aid, a number of states handed payments this yr to offer free faculty meals to all Ok-12 public faculty college students—however Virginia was not one among them.

The explanation? 

The Republican-controlled state Home blocked a invoice that would have supplied free faculty meals to all Ok-12 college students within the state of Virginia, providing thousands and thousands of households some monetary aid.

Home Invoice 1967, launched by Democratic State Delegate Michael Mullin of Newport Information, did not cross the Home Pre-Ok-12 Schooling Subcommittee in a 5-3 vote, with each Republican on the committee voting in opposition to the invoice and each Democrat for it.

The invoice would have required Virginia faculties to offer free breakfast and lunch to all college students, except the college obtained written communication from a scholar’s dad or mum or guardian to not. Mullin’s laws additionally would have eradicated any faculty meal debt. 

Though Virginia already supplies some free faculty meals to college students who qualify for reduced-price ones by federal initiatives such because the Nationwide Faculty Lunch Program, HB 1967 would have expanded free breakfast and lunch to cowl all 1.2 million public faculty college students within the commonwealth. 

The advantages of common free meal packages for public faculty youngsters are well-documented. Analysis reveals that free faculty meals improve entry to nutritious meals, enhance attendance and tutorial efficiency, and cut back hunger-related behavioral issues and childhood meals insecurity. 

Free meals additionally eradicate the stigma that some college students who entry free or low-cost meals could really feel in comparison with their friends who don’t make the most of the packages. 

The invoice was broadly supported by Virginia meals advocacy teams.

Emily Moore, a coverage analyst for Voices for Virginia’s Youngsters, talked about how a number of members of the nonprofit testified in assist of the invoice through the Basic Meeting’s session. 

“We stay in assist of common faculty meals,” Moore mentioned. “Faculty meals present the chance for kids and youth to have direct entry to 2 meals a day—and when children are fed, they will present up able to be taught of their courses, and really feel higher bodily and mentally, which will probably be obvious in the way in which they present up of their relationships with household, buddies, and group.” 

Sarah Steely, director of No Child Hungry Virginia, mentioned that though entry to meals in Virginia faculties has improved for the reason that begin of the pandemic, extra consciousness of the prevailing packages is required. 

Faculty breakfast and lunch stay underutilized,” she mentioned. 

A number of states have expanded their free faculty meal packages this yr, after a pandemic-era federal coverage that allowed faculties to offer free meals to all college students expired final yr.

The hassle to fill this void and guarantee youngsters stay fed has been made much more pressing by increased grocery costs and the tip of different pandemic-era assist packages, such because the additional Supplemental Diet Help Program (SNAP) advantages that supported low-income households.

Eddie Oliver, govt director of the Federation of Virginia Meals Banks, mentioned that the state’s meals banks are beginning to see an increase in demand for emergency meals help as pandemic-era assist packages go by the wayside. 

Oliver believes faculties may play an important position in making certain youngsters don’t go hungry.

“We all know faculties are the primary responders to youngster meals insecurity, so we assist any effort to enhance entry to high school meals and place diet because the important studying useful resource that it’s – supplied with out revenue discrimination, very similar to books, laptops, and transportation,” he mentioned.

Mullin shouldn’t be looking for reelection in 2023, but it surely’s doable that if Democrats win again management of the state Home and retain management of the Senate, that they may introduce and cross a common free faculty meals program subsequent yr. 

If that occurs, greater than 1.2 million Virginia college students can be assured entry to 2 free meals a day, making certain they don’t go hungry and giving their households some assist.