A close up of a kids hand as they eat a school meal
A Centennial Elementary School fifth grader drinks water from a carton during a school lunch on Feb. 10, 2021, in Colorado Springs. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat. Sign up for their newsletters at ckbe.at/newsletters

Many Colorado school districts, including Jeffco, Cherry Creek, Aurora, and Adams 12, plan to offer free school meals to all students starting in the fall of 2023 through a new state program funded with a voter-approved tax measure affecting high earners. 

Of two dozen districts surveyed by Chalkbeat, 16 plan to offer universal free meals next year. But some districts remain undecided, including two of Colorado’s largest districts — Denver and Douglas County.

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Brehan Riley, director of school nutrition at the Colorado Department of Education, said of school district officials, “There seems to be a lot of interest, but people are still unsure. They want to understand it a little bit better.” 

Called Healthy School Meals for All, the program is meant to ensure students are getting the nutritional fuel they need to learn and eliminate the stigma that sometimes comes with the current income-based method for doling out free meals.

The initiative comes on the heels of two school years where the federal government waived income eligibility requirements for federally subsidized meals, allowing schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students. The waivers expired this fall, but lawmakers and advocates found a way to bring back the free meals for next year by asking Colorado voters to approve new funding through Proposition FF.

Voters said yes

The measure will generate more than $100 million a year by reducing income tax deductions available to households earning $300,000 or more.

Many district officials are enthusiastic about the prospect of feeding more students as they did during the first two years of the pandemic. When school meals were free under the waivers, Boulder Valley officials saw a 40% increase in students eating school meals, District 27J saw a 20-30% increase, and Aurora saw a 7-10% increase. 

Read more at chalkbeat.org.

Ann Schimke, Chalkbeat Colorado

Senior reporter — Chalkbeat Colorado. Email: aschimke@chalkbeat.org Twitter: @annschimke