A Centennial Elementary School staff member wheels lunches through the cafeteria Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at the Harrison School District 2 school in Colorado Springs. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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Colorado voters will decide this November whether to cover the cost of school meals for all students.

All Colorado students have had access to free lunch over the last two years thanks to pandemic-related federal waivers that are set to expire this summer. During that time, many school districts reported more students eating lunch, sometimes as many as 40% more than in pre-pandemic times.

Lawmakers have sent a measure to the voters that would bring in an additional $101 million a year by limiting tax deductions for high-income earners. Those new state funds would supplement additional federal dollars that schools can claim by participating in the community eligibility program.

Rather than relying on families filling out applications for subsidized lunches, school districts could use eligibility for programs like Medicaid and food stamps to count children in poverty and get more meals covered.

In addition to covering the costs of school meals, participating school districts could also get money to buy healthy local foods, raise wages for food service workers, upgrade equipment, and train workers to prepare healthy meals.

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The proposal would create the Healthy School Meals for All program. House Bill 1414 passed both chambers with bipartisan support, though many Republicans voted no. By getting lawmakers to place the measure on the ballot, supporters save time and money they would have spent gathering signatures.

Read more at chalkbeat.org.

Erica Meltzer, Chalkbeat

Bureau Chief — Chalkbeat Colorado Email: emeltzer@chalkbeat.org