Senator Jason Lewis recently joined a unanimous vote in the Massachusetts Senate in support of An Act to promote student nutrition that would ensure that more children in Massachusetts have access to free and nutritious school meals.
“We all understand that a hungry student is not ready to be a successful student, and so we need to do all that we can to ensure that kids have consistent access to healthy school meals without the burdens of meal debt or social stigma,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “As the Commonwealth continues to strive for an excellent and equitable educational experience for every child, regardless of their ZIP code or family income, this is another important step along the road to closing opportunity and achievement gaps in our public schools.”
An Act to promote student nutrition requires schools and districts where a majority of students are low-income to enroll in federal programs—known as the Community Eligibility Provision and Provision 2—that enable them to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. In addition to providing universal meals, these programs reduce administrative burdens for schools.
The legislation minimizes families’ meal debt by requiring school districts to maximize federal reimbursement revenues and directing the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to assist them in doing so. When students do accrue meal debt, it requires school districts to determine whether they are eligible for free- or reduced-price meals.
An Act to promote student nutrition also prohibits schools from targeting students who carry meal-related debt with punitive practices such as withholding report cards and transcripts, preventing students from graduating or walking at graduation, barring students from participating in no-fee extracurricular events like field trips, or throwing a child’s hot meal away and replacing it with an inferior meal.
As Senate Chair of the Education Committee, Senator Lewis helped move this important bill through the legislative process.
A similar version of the legislation has also been passed by the House of Representatives, and the bill is expected to reach Governor Baker’s desk soon.