BURLINGTON, Vt. — The Vermont Senate on Thursday unanimously gave preliminary approval to a bill that would bring Universal School Breakfast to all Vermont schools by 2022. The bill (S.100) would make Vermont the first state in the nation to provide breakfast free of charge to all public school students every school day. The Senate is expected to give final approval to the bill on Friday, and then it will move to the House for consideration.
The Senate also committed to a path to providing full Universal School Meals (breakfast and lunch) to all public school students by directing a task force to develop a plan to provide universal lunch by the 2026-27 school year. As S.100 is written, the task force would submit its plan to the Vermont General Assembly in January 2022.
According to recent studies released by the National Food Access and COVID Research Team, and the University of Vermont, 1 in 3 people in Vermont have experienced food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Families with children have been twice as likely to face hunger.
In March 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture took emergency steps to make school and summer meals available to all children for free, regardless of their family’s income. School nutrition teams across Vermont acted quickly to implement systems to deliver meals on buses and arrange curbside pickups. Vermont was the only state to increase the total number of breakfasts and lunches served in April 2020 when compared to April 2019, according to a Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) snapshot report. The USDA has extended these emergency measures into the 2021-22 school year.
“Hunger in Vermont before the COVID-19 pandemic was already unacceptably high. Today, it’s higher than at any point in the last two decades, including the Great Recession. That doesn’t go away right after the emergency order is lifted,” said Senator Chris Pearson (P/D-Chittenden), a Senate champion for S.100. “By passing universal school breakfast, and setting Vermont down a path to full universal school meals, we’re making the health of our kids and classrooms a top priority.”
“When all our kids have regular access to nutritious meals that they can eat together – and when no student is singled out for needing meals or for having school meal debt – they all get a better education,” said Senate Education Committee Chair Brian Campion (D-Bennington). “With S.100’s passage, Vermont will again lead the nation by demonstrating that food is fundamentally linked to educational outcomes.”
In the 2019-2020 school year, 78 Vermont schools provided universal school meals to more than 17,000 students. More schools have indicated that they are eager to implement the program, after seeing the positive impact that it made for students and for school culture overall, during the pandemic year.
The bill would make universal breakfast available to all public schools beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. Breakfast will be offered at no charge to students or their families, while maximizing federal reimbursements that are available.
“When all students receive breakfast and lunch at no charge, students and schools experience extraordinary benefits,” said Anore Horton, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont. “Student learning improves, behavior and health improves, relationships between school administrators and families improve. It is a specific, feasible intervention that makes our kids, and our communities stronger.”
“The Vermont Farm to School Network fully supports this path to Universal School Meals and S.100,” stated Betsy Rosenbluth, Project Director of Vermont FEED. “We know that when schools can serve local food and can offer meals at no charge to all students, everyone benefits – students, families, farmers and the entire school community. Students are establishing lifelong eating habits at school and good nutrition is fundamental to their success.”
The Senate today also indicated their commitment to the full Farm Fresh School Meals for All vision, by giving preliminary approval to the State Fiscal Year 2022 Budget, which includes $500,000 to launch a new local purchasing incentive program for schools to encourage school meal programs to increase their direct purchasing from Vermont farmers and producers. Together, Universal School Meals and the local purchasing incentive program support children’s access to high quality, nutritious school meals and Vermont’s local producers and working landscape.
About Hunger Free Vermont
Hunger Free Vermont is a statewide nonprofit organization that works with state agencies and community groups to develop sustainable hunger solutions. Since 1993 Hunger Free Vermont’s outreach programs and advocacy have substantially enhanced Vermont’s nutrition safety net and increased access to nutritious foods. To learn more about Hunger Free Vermont, visit www.hungerfreevt.org, and to learn more about the Universal School Meals Campaign, visit www.universalschoolmealsvt.org.
About Tusk Philanthropies
Tusk Philanthropies, the family foundation of venture capitalist and political strategist Bradley Tusk, is focused on making sure that people who are hungry have enough food to eat, and on fixing our democracy by making it exponentially easier to vote. Tusk Philanthropies is supporting Hunger Free Vermont’s campaign to bring universal breakfast and lunch to every public school student in the state. Ensuring people have access to food is an immediate problem that the organization addresses every year by funding, developing, and managing legislative campaigns to expand and strengthen access to nutrition programs like Breakfast After the Bell, Universal School Meals, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). To date, Tusk Philanthropies has helped secure more than $176 million in federal funding to support school meals programs serving over 2.1 million food insecure children in Arizona, California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Washington. To learn more, visit tuskphilanthropies.com.