Massachusetts Gov. Healey looks to extend schools’ universal free lunch program
A pilot program in Massachusetts offering universal school meals would be extended through the end of the 2023-2024 school year as part of a supplemental budget proposal filed Friday by Gov. Maura Healey.
The $734 million proposed spending plan includes $171 million for the state-funded school meals program.
The proposal also directs the state Office of Education to report by early next year on options to extend this program into the future, including looking for ways to tap into federal funds to help pay for the meals. The administration had earlier requested funding to continue the program through the current school year, according to Healey.
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“The universal school meals program has proven to be a success in expanding access to nutritious meals for all students, and it’s essential that we keep it running,” Healey said in a press release.
The move comes as states have grappled with the end of a pandemic-era federal aid program that made school meals available for free to all public school students — regardless of family income levels.
California and Maine made universal meals permanent in 2021. Last year, Colorado voters approved a ballot measure to provide free meals for all public school students,
Other states are weighing expanded or universal meals programs.
Vermont — which opted last year to continue the free meals for all public school students for another year using surplus state education funding — is considering a bill that would make universal free school meals permanent.
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Healey’s supplemental budget plan also includes $20 million to help the beleaguered Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority recruit and retain employees — money that would help increase hiring bonuses, boost entry-level pay for bus operators and develop a marketing campaign to support hiring efforts.
Worker shortages at the transit authority has contributed to a slew of problems, including a slowdown in subway trips during rush hours.
The proposed budget also would triple the operating budget of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to help pay for the state’s continued push for clean technology and decarbonization efforts. It also includes $2 million for the state’s celebration of the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution.
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The budget plan now heads to state lawmakers.