Coalition: Universal School Food Program to Cost State $200 Million; Chairman Edwards Counts Votes
A representative of
the Hunger-Free Schools Ohio Coalition set a price tag of $200 million in state
money Monday to provide free breakfast and lunch to all K-12 students,
regardless of a family’s ability to pay.
The coalition hosted a
press conference with members including the Ohio Education Association (OEA),
Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), school district staff and parents.
“Every child in Ohio,
regardless of where they’re from, what they look like or how much money their
parents make, needs to be able to eat full, nutritionally complete meals at
school … allowing them to focus on what they’re learning, not on the
hunger pangs they’re feeling,” said OEA President Scott DiMauro, who hosted the
pandemic-era federal programs that ensured every Ohio child could receive free
meals at school have ended, there is more than enough money in Ohio right now
to ensure no student goes without the meals they need,” he said.
CDF Policy Associate
Katherine Ungar, who has written the white paper “School Meals Support Ohio
Student Health and Learning,” said between one in four and one in six children
live in food-insecure households, depending on the county, for a total of
“We hope lawmakers
will prioritize our kids and school nutrition programs in this biennial budget
by expanding critical access to school meals,” Ungar said, putting state costs
at $60 million for universal K-12 breakfast and $200 million for breakfast and
lunch, beyond federal allotments for free and reduced food programs.
She said spending
state dollars would maximize the federal reimbursement rate and reduce food
waste by increasing predictability through universal enrollment.
“We do think the
resources are there,” DiMauro added. “The question is whether there is the
political will to make this happen. This isn’t a partisan issue.”
Bluffton Middle School
Principal Josh Kauffman said the hunger problem goes beyond the pure
availability of free and reduced food.
“Qualifying students don’t
want to eat because of the stigma,” he said of the district’s past experience.
“But thatstigma disappears when systems are in place to provide healthy
school meals for all.”
He said setting up
tables with breakfast bags near the school entrance equalized all children and
expanded program participation from 19 percent to 95 percent.
Megan Thompson of
Wellington Exempted School District described her experience as a parent
transitioning from emergency school food programs during COVID-19 back to normal
life, calling it an “arbitrary” shift.
“It was much easier
before when we didn’t have to think about lunches,” Thompson said. “I hope that
we can pack good lunches for our kids, but I know that’s not the case for other
people. It just has to happen that meals need to be free for the kids.”
Ungar noted the Biden
administration already is working on expanding the school breakfast and lunch
program to Medicaid-enrolled families.
A reporter wondered
whether schools might begin auto-enrolling children in the food program, even
if the General Assembly doesn’t fill the gap for universal eligibility -- and “snowball
this into a free lunch for all.”
It was suggested the
governor and certain legislators are potentially interested in expanding school
breakfast and lunch. House Finance Committee Chairman Rep. Jay Edwards
(R-Nelsonville) participated in the virtual press conference.
“If a kid is coming to
school hungry, math and science really isn’t that important,” Edwards said. “My
job is very easy. I have to count to 50 and make sure we can get the votes on
Ungar’s white paper
can be found at tinyurl.com/4htw2myb.