We hear constantly from food service directors and principals across Vermont that even though children in the “full pay” category are required to pay, they often don’t have the money, even though they clearly need a nutritious meal. This example in Milton illustrates this problem. Food service directors everywhere have been feeding kids regardless of their ability to pay which has created debt in programs across our school systems. At the end of each school year, these meal program debts must be paid by the taxpayers of each town.
The current school meal model is inefficient and wastes precious dollars and time trying to collect debts. These resources could be better used to invest in nutritious school meal programs that serve all children. We believe that a universal school meals model supports working parents by ensuring their children have nutritious meals at school, thereby alleviating the stress and concern of packing meals from home each day. Universal school meals will end the economic categorization students experience in the school lunch line and ensure that all children get nutritious breakfasts, lunches, and snacks every day. Well-fed children do better in school, are sick less often, have fewer behavioral issues, and tend to be more engaged in the broader community. By eliminating the need for food service directors to collect money from children and parents, there is less risk for debt in the school budget. Money currently used to cover debts could be more wisely allocated to increase the quality of school food and teach nutrition education. Overall, the universal meals model is more economically efficient for schools and taxpayers, and a simple way to support children, family, and community health for the long term.