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Free meals for Colorado students starts next academic year

More than 20,000 St. Vrain students were getting free meals before federal program expired
(stock photo)

Colorado overwhelmingly approved a proposition to provide free meals to all public school students this election.

Statewide, 56.7% of voters were in favor of Proposition FF,  but the margin was even greater in Boulder County where more than 70% of voters said yes. How this program will look implemented in local schools — from free meals to grants for local food and pay raises for food service workers — is still being finalized.

Proposition FF will help pay for school breakfasts and lunches for all students by limiting state tax deductions for households making more than $300,000 and maximizing federal funding.

During the pandemic, schools nationwide were allowed to serve free meals to all students regardless of income. That expired at the end of June, so only students that qualified for free or reduced lunch didn’t have to pay for their meals this school year — Colorado covered the rest of the cost for lunches partially paid for by the federal government.

When lunches were free, over 20,000 St. Vrain students were accessing a free lunch daily within the 31,312-student district. That was more than double the 8,500 students who qualified for free or reduced lunch.

About 40% of 335,000 students meet the criteria to be eligible for free school meals in Colorado, with the federal threshold for a family of four needing to make less than $51,338 annually to qualify.

The ballot measure will also fund grants to schools to purchase Colorado grown food and wage increases for food service providers. The measure is expected to cost $71-101 million a year once it is fully operational, with local food grants and assistance totalling $14.5 million of that and wage increases totalling $7.5 million.

The program will begin in the 2023-2024 school year. Colorado will be the third state to permanently offer free meals to students, following California and Maine.

Amy Golden

About the Author: Amy Golden

Amy Golden is a reporter for the Longmont Leader covering city and county issues, along with anything else that comes her way.
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