Monday, March 4, 2024

FREE LUNCH IN RHODE ISLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Sen. Acosta, Rep. Sanchez reintroduce bill providing free school meals.

STATE HOUSE – Sen. Jonathon Acosta and Rep. Enrique George Sanchez have reintroduced legislation to provide free meals to all students of public schools.

“As our state makes improving educational outcomes a top priority for the rest of the decade, it’s also time for us to give our students the most important thing they need for educational success – a school day free from hunger,” said Senator Acosta (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket). “The evidence is crystal clear that we can improve learning, improve student health and reduce social stigma, all with just two meals each school day. The status quo lets too many students fall through the cracks.”

The bill (2024-S 20462024-H 7337), which was passed in the Senate but not the House in the 2023 session, would amend the General Laws to require free breakfast and lunch be provided for all students by inserting “free breakfast” into the statute that applies to free school lunches. The bill further amends the statute by eliminating the language that states only students and families who meet certain financial requirements be offered free lunch.

“We can’t begin to invest in our schools if our students are hungry,” said Representative Sanchez (D-Dist. 9, Providence). “The rising prices of housing, utilities and food mean that some families who don’t currently qualify for free school meals can’t afford them, leaving them hungry or in debt. It’s time to make sure no student attends school on an empty stomach.”

Advocates for universal free school meals point to improved attendance and academic performance, healthier students, and reducing stigma associated with eating school meals, ending the problem of unpaid school meal debt and easing the administrative burden for schools to track meal payments. Similar legislation last year was supported by a coalition of more than 30 local organizations.