The Legislature passed a bill to make school lunch free for all low-income students and carved out $322,250 in the 2014 budget to pay for it.
Gov. Peter Shumlin identified this as a priority during his inaugural address in January: “While some low-income Vermont kids are eligible for free school lunch under federal guidelines, others have family incomes just high enough that they are forced to pony up cash they don’t have to eat lunch. We must fix this problem for the thousands of low-income Vermont students who can’t afford to pay for lunch.”
The free lunch program is available to families with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the federal poverty line. Families below that threshold already qualify for free lunch, paid for through federal funds.
In the 2011-2012 school year, 3,539 students — roughly 60 percent of those eligible in Vermont — received reduced-price lunches. School food service directors told lawmakers that many students don’t participate either because they don’t have the 40 cents or because they feel stigmatized.
Laurie Colgan, director of child nutrition programs for the Agency of Education, has said she expects the legislation will increase participation by 25 percent. That projection is based on the rise in school breakfast participation after Vermont passed a law in 2008 making breakfast free for reduced-price students.