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Shapiro budget provides all Pennsylvania public school students with free breakfast

The 2023-2024 state budget also provides free lunches to all students previously eligible for reduced-cost lunches.

By Will Fritz - September 26, 2023
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Josh Shapiro at budget-signing ceremony
Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro poses at Millmont Elementary School in Reading during a ceremonial signing of a 2023-24 budget bill to provide universal free breakfast to nearly 1.7 million public school students, Aug. 11, 2023 (Photo from Governor Josh Shapiro/X)

The 1.7 million students in public K-12 schools across Pennsylvania are now all eligible for free breakfasts, regardless of their families’ income, thanks to a provision in the 2023-2024 fiscal year budget signed into law by Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro in August.

Shapiro’s office announced that the commonwealth would spend $46.5 million on the program during the fiscal year.

The federal government already pays for school meals for children from families making under 130% of the federal poverty level. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it also covered free breakfast for all students. Pennsylvania’s program will make free breakfast permanent, covering the cost for all public school children not covered by the federal program. The state is also guaranteeing free lunch to the 22,000 children who are already eligible for reduced-price lunches.

Universal free breakfast for Pennsylvania students was a part of the governor’s original budget proposal for 2023-2024 that made it through to the finalized budget.

“We can’t expect our kids to pay attention in class, learn, and succeed if they haven’t eaten all day – and that’s why I want to give free breakfast to every child in our schools,” Shapiro said in a statement in June. “More than 325,000 children across the Commonwealth – including more than 10,000 kids in Montgomery County alone – were food insecure in 2021. My budget would devote dedicated funding to making universal free breakfast a reality for the first time ever, because our children deserve a safe, healthy learning environment no matter what zip code they live in or how much their parents make.”

The statement said providing universal free breakfast “eliminates the stigma associated with free and reduced-price breakfast that may deter eligible students from participating.”

According to a 2021 report issued by Feeding America, a network of food banks and pantries and meal programs, more than 325,000 children in Pennsylvania face food insecurity. Of those, 23% are ineligible for federal nutrition programs because their families’ incomes are too high to qualify.

According to the report, acting Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Khalid Mumin said: “Research shows that students learn best when they start their day with healthy, nutritious food, but sometimes — due to family budgets or busy schedules — breakfast can be the most difficult meal to come by. By providing free breakfast to all students in Pennsylvania, we can make the most important meal the most accessible meal and ensure that learners begin each day on the right foot.”

The state’s education budget for 2023-2024 includes funding for other initiatives as well: an additional $567 million for local school districts through an increase in the state’s Basic Education Funding Formula and $50 million more for special education. State law requires separate legislation, known as code bills, to authorize implementation of the funding, and Republicans in the Pennsylvania State Senate are blocking those bills.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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