Universal Free School Meals for Colorado — Who’s Footing the Bill?

Middle school students choosing healthy food in cafeteria lunch line.
SDI Productions / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Colorado students may soon have access to free meals in all of the state’s public schools. According to unofficial election results, more than 56% of voters are in favor of Proposition FF, which aims to help pay for school meals by reducing state tax deductions for those making more than $300,000 per year.

If passed by a majority of voters, then Colorado will offer free breakfast and lunch to all public school students, regardless of income level, during the 2023-2024 school year.

The Healthy School Meals for All program will raise $100 million to pay for these meals, which advocates say will be crucial in addressing food insecurity for tens of thousands of students across the state, Truthout reported.

Education Week also noted that the program will raise pay for cafeteria workers and provide grants to districts to buy local ingredients for school meals.

By limiting state tax deductions for those making more than $300,000 per year, the state can increase the taxable income of about 114,000 households or 5% of tax filers in Colorado, says Truthout. This will allow 60,000 students who can’t afford school meals but whose families don’t qualify for meal waivers to access free meals.

If passed, Colorado would become the third state, along with California and Maine, to permanently offer free meals. According to Education Week, Massachusetts, Nevada and Vermont will also provide access to free meals this school year. Connecticut previously offered free meals to all students, but the program ran out of funding. The National Conference of State Legislatures says that several other states have pending legislation for similar programs.

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