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WA Legislature to Consider Universal School Meals in Upcoming Legislative Session

Thanks to Superintendent Reykdal, Representative Riccelli, and Senator Nobles for announcing their plan to introduce statewide universal school meals in the upcoming legislative session this morning. We also applaud Superintendent Reykdal’s proposed budget request to Governor Inslee to include universal school meals as a critical part of basic education services because healthy meals fuel learning and improves both physical and mental health. Northwest Harvest applauds and supports this bold move that directly addresses racial disparities in students experiencing food insecurity.

Black and Latinx children across the U.S. have historically experienced food insecurity at a disproportionately high rate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in 2019–2020, 18.8% of Black children and 15.7% of Latinx children lived in food-insecure households, compared to 6.5% percent of white children. Not only would universal school meals disrupt this historical trend, research shows that participation in school meals improves academic achievement, standardized test scores, and cognitive function. It also boosts attendance and improves student behavior. The evidence is clear: making sure all kids are fed at school is an effective policy intervention.

The positive impact of universal school meals was also seen clearly during the COVID-19 pandemic: according to the newly released USDA household food security report, in 2021, rates of food insecurity decreased across all demographics due in part to expanded eligibility for school meals. Across the board, the COVID-era boosts to SNAP benefits, universal school meals, increased flexibilities in using WIC show significant decreases in food insecurity. These policies are working, and rather than removing temporary emergency supports, we should be working to make them permanent.

We encourage our elected officials to act with urgency in introducing and passing legislation that works in reducing hunger for kids and their families.