Senate passes Cano and Acosta bills requiring universal healthy free school meals


            STATE HOUSE – The Senate today passed two bills sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Sandra Cano (2023-S 0068) and Sen. Jonathon Acosta (2023-S 0071) which would require universal healthy free school meals at the state’s public schools.

            “The science and data are clear – our children perform better in school when universal healthy free meals are offered.  Physical, social and mental health stressors for our students are consistently lessened when our children are fed properly through universal healthy free meals.  The current free or reduced meal model also unfortunately causes many children to fall through the cracks, possibly having to forgo eating because their families might make a fraction more than the program eligibility requires.  In order to give all of our students the best possible opportunities to succeed later in life, our schools need to provide universal healthy free meals to our kids,” said Chairwoman Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket).

            “While our free and reduced meal programs in public schools help many children, the current status quo still leaves too many students hungry during the school day for reasons such as social stigma, family finances or varying other factors.  While the causes for each individual case of child hunger in school may be complex, the solution to every instance is astonishingly simple – provide free and healthy meals for all of our students. The evidence and data proving the effectiveness of this approach is plain as day and it’s time we give our students the most important thing they need for educational success – a school day free from hunger,” said Senator Acosta (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket).

            Chairwoman Cano’s bill would require free meals to be provided for all elementary and secondary students attending public schools, to the extent state and federal funds are available, by removing language in the General Laws which stated that only students from families that met specific requirements by state and federal regulations would be provided free lunches.

            The legislation is supported by a coalition of more than 30 local organizations including: American Academy of Pediatrics – RI Chapter; American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network; American College of Cardiology – RI Chapter; American Heart Association; Aquidneck Community Table; Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island; Care Transformation Collaborative RI; Farm Fresh RI; National Education Association Rhode Island; Oasis International; Parents Leading for Educational Equity RI; Progreso Latino; Protect Our Healthcare RI; Providence Healthy Communities Office; Rhode Island Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics; Rhode Island AFL-CIO; Rhode Island Alliance of YMCAs; Rhode Island Association of School Business Officials; Rhode Island Association of School Committees; Rhode Island Association of School Principals; Rhode Island Certified School Nurse Teachers Association; Rhode Island Community Food Bank; Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals; Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition; Rhode Island Kids Count; Rhode Island Medical Society; Rhode Island PTA; Rhode Island Public Health Institute; Rhode Island School Superintendents’ Association; Rhode Island State Nurses Association; Rhode Island Student Assistance Services; United Way of Rhode Island; West Warwick Health Equity Zone; and Young Voices.

            Senator Acosta’s bill would require free breakfast and lunch be provided for all students by amending the General Laws by inserting “free breakfast” into the statute that applies to free school lunches.  The bill further amends the statute by eliminating the language that states only students and families who meet certain financial requirements be offered free lunch.

            Chairwoman Cano’s legislation now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration where Rep. Justine A. Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) has introduced the legislation (2023-H 56396).  Senator Acosta’s bill also now heads to the House for consideration.