Harrisburg, Pa. − August 4, 2023 — Senator Lindsey M. Williams (D-Allegheny) and Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks) announced today that all Pennsylvania students will once again have access to free school breakfast for the 2023-24 school year. This announcement follows yesterday’s budget signing by Governor Josh Shapiro, who has been a vocal advocate for extending the Universal School Breakfast program and expanding access to school lunches.
“Students will be heading back to school in the next few weeks and knowing that they will be able to start every day ready to learn with a healthy breakfast is a huge relief for families and schools,” said Senator Williams. “School meals are just as essential to learning as textbooks and pencils– students can’t learn when they’re hungry. I’m incredibly glad to see this program funded for the 2023-24 school year as we work to make this cornerstone of food security for students permanent.”
“Starting the day with a complete, nutritious meal sets students up for success in the classroom,” said Senator Schwank. “So many kids have benefitted from the federal funding for school breakfast over the past few years. It would have been wrong to roll back universal breakfast, considering how many of our students have come to rely on these meals. I’m incredibly proud that Pennsylvania has stepped up to continue to provide breakfast for our students in this year’s budget. I give a ton of credit to Gov. Shapiro for making this item a priority and delivering for Pennsylvania’s students.”
The Universal School Breakfast program was started by former Governor Tom Wolf during the 2022-23 school year after pandemic-era federal waivers that had given all students access to free school breakfast and lunch expired. Following advocacy from Senator Williams and others, Governor Wolf established the Universal School Breakfast Program to provide free breakfast for all Pennsylvania students enrolled in schools that participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. This program proved to be an enormous success, with many school districts seeing the number of students taking the opportunity to eat a healthy breakfast at school doubling from pre-pandemic numbers.
Senator Schwank and Senator Williams have introduced SB 180, the No Student Should Go Hungry – Universal School Meals bill, which would provide free school lunch and breakfast to all students who are not already covered through the federal free and reduced-price-meal and Community Eligibility Provision programs. The bill will also eliminate existing school lunch debt so both schools and families can have a fresh start. Rep. Emily Kinkead (D-20) has introduced companion legislation in the House.
Since the introduction of this legislation, locally elected school boards across the state have passed resolutions expressing their support for the Universal School Meals legislation. Schools such as the Fox Chapel Area School District have reported seeing a nearly 122% increase in breakfasts served daily since the implementation of Universal School Breakfasts. As the Resolution notes, “multiple studies show that students with access to free breakfast have improved attendance rates… improved participation rates, fewer behavioral incidents, lower suspension rates, and better health outcomes.”
Individuals can learn more about the Universal School Meals program and how it fits into combating child hunger here. You can also sign on to be a part of the citizen coalition urging legislators to support Universal School Meals legislation and fight child hunger here.