While the Framework to Provide Free School Meals to All has Passed, the Program Must Be Funded in the State Budget to Make it a Reality
Free, healthy school meals for all Illinois students may soon become a reality if the state legislature funds the program recently passed in the House and Senate.
House Bill 2471, the Healthy School Meals for All legislation, passed the Illinois House and Senate and paves the way for Illinois students to be hunger-free and ready to grow, learn and thrive.
“We’re thrilled the legislation passed in the House and Senate by a bipartisan group of legislators showing their commitment to children’s health and well-being. To make it a reality, the legislature now needs to ensure the program is funded in the state Fiscal Year 2024 budget,” said Janna Simon, Director of Policy and Partnership Initiatives at the Illinois Public Health Institute, which has been convening a coalition of advocates in support of the proposal.
House Bill 2471 creates the Healthy School Meals for All program to provide state funding to Illinois schools to enable them to offer quality, free school meals to all children who need and want one, no matter their family’s income.
The program would maximize use of an existing Federal program and expand access to free school meals, helping to reduce the stigma often associated with qualifying for free or reduced-price meals.
“My district didn’t used to provide free meals to all students and we saw kids arriving to school hungry with no breakfast available and teachers having to spend out of pocket to keep their classrooms stocked with snacks. Now that we’ve been able to participate in the Federal program that allows us to provide free meals to all, we’ve seen a big impact on our students and families, allowing working parents to stretch their dollars further, teachers to spend more time teaching, and kids not worried about what their friends will think if they take the free meal. I’m so happy all districts in Illinois will now have a chance to get the resources they need to offer this program to their families,” said Sheri Peacock, the Associate Superintendent of East Moline School District 37.
Illinois joins a list of other states working to fill the gaps left by Congress when the waivers that provided free meals to all kids during the COVID-19 pandemic expired.
Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico, Maine, and California have all passed and funded free school meals legislation in their states. The coalition of Illinois partners, including education leaders, public health groups, parents, and anti-hunger advocates have been supporting this proposal.
It is estimated to cost around $115 million in the first year, and up to $194 million in future years, depending on how many schools and students opt-in.
If signed into law and fully funded, families may not need to worry about paying for student meals this next school year.