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O'Connell Calls For More Funding to Support Free and Reduced Priced Meals for Students

By Cathy Bui - December 5, 2008

The currently rising demand for free and reduced priced lunches in schools is another example of how the economic downturn is causing many families in California to turn to schools to help feed their children.  As a result of rising demand, the State Superintendent of Instruction, Jack O'Connell (SPI) and the California Department of Education (CDE) are concerned that the Free and Reduced-Priced Meals program will most likely run out of state money for this fiscal year.

California served a record of 770.6 million meals to students in 2007-08 – 28 million more meals than the year before – which is a 4.5% increase.

With 50.9% of California students enrolled in this program, and the $7 million unaccounted increase due to the statutory cost-of-living adjustment, the SPI is requesting a State budget augmentation of at least $31.1 million to allow CDE to fully reimburse schools for the May and June claims that remain unpaid from last year, and to pay for the anticipated higher number of meals districts will serve this year and the next.

The funding shortfall and increase in low-income students participating in the State's meal program is due to the economic downturn, along with new nutritional standards for schools, schools serving more nutritious and fresh foods, and the higher costs for food, energy, labor, and benefits.

Without additional funding, districts will be forced to make a series of unacceptable choices to dip further into their own tight budget, serve less-nutritious foods and not comply with California's nationally-renowned nutrition standards, or reduce cafeteria staffing.  To view this press release, please visit www.cde.ca.gov.

Editor's Note: Cathy Bui  conducts legislative and policy reserach on education issues for Governmental Solutions Group, LLC in Sacramento.