Universal School Meals becomes law

Vermont Students to Receive No-Cost Breakfast and Lunch for 2022-23

Vermont Business Magazine On Tuesday, May 31, Governor Phil Scott signed S.100, the Universal School Meals Act. This act, combined with legislation passed in this biennium to increase the use of Vermont foods and farm to school, means Vermont students will all have access to Farm Fresh School Meals everyday.

The Universal School Meals Act ensures that all students in Vermont’s public schools have access to a healthy, nutritious breakfast and lunch daily, at no cost to themselves or their families, for the 2022-23 school year. Approved independent schools also have the option to opt-in to the program.

Additionally, this year’s state budget continued funding for Vermont’s Local Food Incentive Grant Program which was launched in the 2021-22 school year, and increased funding for the Farm to School and Early Childhood Program to $500,000 in annual funding.

All schools in Vermont have provided Universal School Meals since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with federal waivers providing additional, temporary funding for the program.

While the federal waivers end this summer, S.100 provides a one-year extension of Universal School Meals. Schools will continue to draw down federal dollars to support the school meal program, and the state’s education fund will cover the remaining cost.

The Legislature has expressed its intent to make Universal School Meals permanent in Vermont, and S.100 instructs the Agency of Education and the Joint Fiscal Office to bring back data in January 2023 to help the Legislature determine how to keep the program going after next school year.

The Local Food Incentive Grant Program, enacted by the Legislature in 2021, helps schools purchase more food directly from Vermont farms and producers. Coupled with the Vermont Farm to School and Early Childhood program, children are able to build a connection to farms in their communities and familiarity with nutritious, local ingredients, and more farms and producers can sell to schools and early childhood providers.

Farm Fresh School Meals for All in Vermont is the culmination of the work of a coalition of partners representing advocates, stakeholders, education and nutrition professionals, students and more. The group includes Hunger Free Vermont, Vermont FEED, the School Nutrition Association, the National Education Association of Vermont (NEA), Rights and Democracy, NOFA-VT, Shelburne Farms, the Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance, the Vermont Farm to School and Early Childhood Network, the Vermont Foodbank, and thousands of supporters from across Vermont.

“This is a coalition of teachers, students, parents, farmers, school nutrition professionals, and community members across Vermont. We could not have gotten this far without their voices, and it is an honor to have worked alongside them to ensure that every student, in every school, gets a nutritious breakfast and lunch, at no cost to the student; because no child deserves to learn what hunger feels like in school,” Anore Horton, executive director of Hunger Free Vermont, said Tuesday.

Betsy Rosenbluth, project director at Vermont FEED, agreed, saying, “Vermont schools and early childhood programs are looking to connect students with neighboring farms and local producers. The historic investment in Farm to School and Early Childhood made this year will help instill a lifelong connection with local food, agriculture and nutrition education more equitably with children across the entire state. And, when all students can eat school meals without shame or stigma, more Vermont kids experience local food and where that food comes from.”

Horton added that, because of the support of Vermont’s Legislature and Administration, every student will have access to a healthy breakfast and lunch while at school — and local farmers will have access to new school markets.

“We look forward to working with them in 2023 to make Universal School Meals permanent, and to continue to support local purchasing in schools and Farm to School and Early Childhood programming,” she said.

Scott Fay, president of the School Nutrition Association of Vermont, said, “With the passage of S.100 we will know that every Vermont student has access to a healthy breakfast and lunch while they’re at school. Vermont’s school nutrition programs will be able to focus on offering students top quality meals without the distractions of collecting money for unpaid debt. Our school cafeterias across the state will be free from stigma and students will receive meals equally and with the dignity that has eluded us prior to Universal Meals. This law will ensure that our students are fed and ready to learn so that our teachers will have a better chance to bring about desired educational outcomes.”

About Hunger Free Vermont: Hunger Free Vermont is a statewide nonprofit organization that works with state agencies and community groups to develop sustainable hunger solutions. Since 1993 Hunger Free Vermont’s outreach programs and advocacy have substantially enhanced Vermont’s nutrition safety net and increased access to nutritious foods. hungerfreevt.org

About Vermont FEED: Vermont FEED is a farm to school partnership project of NOFA-VT and Shelburne Farms that seeks to engage every student and community in a local food and farm culture that nurtures child health, cultivates viable farms, and builds vibrant communities. These two nonprofit organizations have more than forty years of experience in farm to school, supporting teachers, school nutrition staff, farmers, and administrators. vtfeed.org

MONTPELIER, Vermont — (June 1, 2022)