by Victoria Namkung
Before California became the first state to implement a universal meals program for its 6.2 million public school students, Alyssa Wells would keep granola bars in her classroom for students who complained of being hungry.
When the new program began in August at Foussat elementary school in Oceanside, California, which is primarily attended by Latino students from low-income families, the teacher noticed immediate changes in her students. “The kids are eating way more and they’re more focused, eager to learn and they’re just happier,” she said. “They’ve got one less thing to worry about.”
In San Diego county, where Oceanside is located, more than 14%, or 100,000 children, are food insecure, with a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.
Parents, educators, school officials and anti-hunger organizations say the program – which serves all kids regardless of family income – will also improve school performance and remove the stigma associated with free and reduced price lunches. California has the country’s largest population of public school students, which now means that about 12% of American children have access to free breakfast and lunch through this state legislation, made possible by an unexpected budget surplus. Maine passed a similar universal meals program right after California.
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