Hunger Free Vermont said now is the time to ensure every student in the Green Mountain State can depend on a healthy meal.
“To treat food as the educational resource that it is, along with textbooks and exercise equipment and everything we provide for a fantastic Vermont education,” said Anore Horton, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont.
According to the organization, nearly 65,000 Vermonters are food insecure and that includes about 18,000 children. The Universal School Meals bill would require all public schools in Vermont to transition over the next 5 years to provide both breakfast and lunch to every student, in hopes of achieving equity.
“It is within our grasp to ensure that students don’t have to worry about being singled out or embarrassed because their family is different from others,” said Sen. Debbie Ingram, the lead sponsor of the bill.
Ingram says the program would cost around $4 million each year and would be included in the state’s education fund. Champions of the legislation say it will also support educational success in the classroom.
“When students are hungry, they simply cannot concentrate on class activities or lessons,” said Don Tinney, president of Vermont NEA. “School meals are an integral part of the school day.”
With the current mindset of not turning any students away, unpaid debt from those meals is building up, reaching tens of thousands of dollars in some districts.
“There’s families that are not qualifying for free meals by a very small margin,” said Kathy Alexander, food service director at Mount Abraham Unified School District and Addison Northwest School District. “Their income may put them over the threshold but their expenses are enormous and this is something they cannot bear.”
Vermont would be the first state in the country to provide universal school meals every day at every public school to all students.