State schools chief proposes free school meals for all Washington students

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington’s schools chief wants to make sure none of the state’s 1.1 million K-12 students goes hungry while at school.

On Thursday, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal announced the proposal to provide free school meals to all students as part of their basic education.

Federal waivers during the first two years of the pandemic allowed students to eat free of charge, but starting this school year, the waivers will end and 330,000 students and their families will have to pay or apply for free or reduced-priced meals.

Eligibility is determined by federal requirements.

“Under current requirements, a family of four with a household income of $51,338 per year would pay around $2,330 per year for their children to have healthy breakfast and lunch provided at school,” a news release from the superintendent’s office said.

With Reykdal’s proposal, all students would eat free of charge, regardless of their family income.

“When students are hungry, their ability to learn and engage in school is impacted,” said Reykdal. “Quality nutrition is a key component of student success and access to meals is an important part of being at school. We have to stop expecting families to foot the bill for resources and supports that are a normal part of the school day.”

Currently, under the expansion of the federal government’s Community Eligibility Provision — a program that provides free meals to all students in schools with high percentages of students experiencing poverty — more than half of the state’s students will be in a school providing free meals.

Reykdal’s proposal asks the Legislature to invest $86 million a year to provide free meals for the 330,000 students who are not currently eligible for free or reduced-price meals and are not attending a CEP school.

Some states whose schools are offering free meals to all students include California, Vermont and Massachusetts.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction will submit the proposal to Gov. Jay Inslee and the legislature to be considered in the 2023 legislative session.

If funded, all Washington students will be able to have free school meals by the beginning of the 2023–24 school year.