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Free public school meals goes to Colorado voters in November

Proposition FF looks to give all students free meals using funds from top 5% of taxpayers
(stock photo)

Voters will decide this November if Colorado should provide free meals to all public school students.

Proposition FF asks voters to create the Healthy School Meals for All program, which would be paid for by increasing taxes paid by households with incomes over $300,000 along with maximizing additional federal funding. The ballot measure would also provide funding to purchase products grown, raised and processed in Colorado and increase wages for those who prepare and serve food.

Currently, families of four making less than $36,075 a year qualify for free school meals while reduced priced meals are available for families of four with an income of less than $51,338.

According to the St. Vrain Valley School District, about 8,500 students qualify for free and reduced lunch out of about 31,000 total. Statewide, about 40% of 355,000 students meet the criteria to be eligible for free school meals in Colorado.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government made all public school meals free for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years. That program expired in June, with students above the income thresholds now having to pay full price for meals once again.

The money for the measure would be raised by limiting the deductions from Colorado taxable income for households making more than $300,000, capping deductions at $12,000 for single filers and $16,000 for joint. This would affect about 113,988 households or 5% of Coloradoans.

According to financial analysis, this would increase Colorado income tax revenue by just over $100 million. The ballot measure would also require school meal providers to maximize federal reimbursements for meals.

The fiscal impact of Proposition FF is expected to be between $71-101 million a year once it is fully operational. Of that, the free meals will cost $48.5-78.5 million, grants to purchase Colorado grown food will be $9.5 million, wage increases will be $7.6 million and grants to assist school food providers with the promotion and utilization of local foods will be $5 million.

The committee supporting this ballot effort argues that passing this measure would be a step forward in ending childhood hunger while supporting nutritious ingredients grown and raised locally. They also reference studies that have found that providing children with a healthy breakfast and lunch helps them to be more successful in school.

“Proposition FF gives every Colorado kid a better shot at success by ensuring they have healthy meals,” the committee said.

According to the committee website, more than 80 organizations support the ballot measure, including Boulder County Public Health, Children’s Hospital Colorado, the American Heart Association and Hunger Free Colorado.

An analysis released by the Common Sense Institute last month cautioned that, depending on a number of factors, the ballot proposal is at risk of both being underfunded or overfunded.

“According to our models, the proposed program is at risk of insolvency,” CSI Senior Economist Steven Beyers said in a release. “By 2033, the potential cumulative deficit in the program is estimated to -$330 million and -$4.7 billion by 2050 … Simply put, there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

The Common Sense Institute added that revenues could also be as high as $1 billion over 10 years, which would not be returned to taxpayers.