Bringing Food to the (School) Table

10/19/2022

One of the ballot measures on this year’s November ballot, Proposition FF, seeks to address the issue of student hunger in schools across the state of Colorado by bring farm-fresh, healthy meals to the school table. The initiative, Healthy School Meals for All, intends to make school meals free regardless of economic income level, raise the wages for school cafeteria workers, and support local farmers by buying fresh produce directly from local farms. This story is sponsored by Tafoya Barrett and Associates and Ute Mountain Casino Hotel

The lunchbox rings and students rush to the cafeteria. Noise levels rising despite teachers reminders to stay quiet. Some students break out lunch boxes, everything from aesthetically-packed bento boxes to a grocery bag grabbed on the way out the door. Others line up to get food from the cafeteria. With all the commotion, it may be easy to miss the student who didn't bring lunch from home and is instead hoping a friend will share a snack or maybe students dismiss food because they're not hungry. Despite the free and reduced lunch programs at many schools across Colorado, there are still students who go hungry because their families simply cannot afford to purchase food at home or at school because of the cost of living. Proposition FF, the Healthy School Meals for All initiative on this November's ballot, wants to address student hunger through farm fresh, healthy, free school meals for every student in Colorado. You're watching the Local News Network brought to you by Tafoya Barrett and Associates and Ute Mountain Casino Hotel. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.

Healthy School Meals for All, it's on our ballot. This November 8th, when the ballot is passed this November by Colorado voters, it will create a system for every student in Colorado public schools to have access to free meals. Those meals, there's a program that will be set up to do from the school, so it will incentivize schools. They'll receive additional funding for purchasing food directly from our Colorado farmers.

If the initiative passes, farm fresh meals might start arriving on students' trays at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year. And the initiative doesn't stop there. Not only does Proposition FF propose bringing fresh food and free meals to students, the initiative also addresses the workers preparing food for students.

There will also be funding, either in the form of direct funding or a stipend for our school cafeteria workers. So they'll have an additional pay closer to, or, you know, kind of maybe a living wage, 'cause a lot of them, at least across the state, don't have very good pay. There also will be training so they can, I guess, really improve their skills so they can cook from scratch. A lot of schools across the state more or less have more of a processed kind of meal in some instances that they don't even have the proper equipment, like a stove and an oven to cook from scratch.

The initiative has its roots in the pandemic when school districts across the state offered meal pickup for students who are otherwise learning from home. For many, the school lunch and breakfast, if offered, is one of the only reliable sources of food, especially as the cost of living in Colorado has continued to rise. While there are free and reduced lunch programs available, many families don't qualify for the program and so often have to make the choice between buying food for the week or making rent or a car payment or the heating bill. Even when families do qualify, sometimes the students choose not to use the program out of shame or embarrassment.

The most recent estimates are showing that over 60,000 kids are going to school hungry and they don't qualify for the free or reduced lunch program. So the standards for those programs are federal levels. In the state of Colorado, the cost of living is significantly higher, particularly here in Durango, as well as some other mountain towns. So those families are left out, yet they're struggling to make it. So those kids are not eating at all. And so kids who don't eat have a very difficult time learning and behaving in the classroom 'cause they're hungry. Many students that are eating are not getting a complete diet so they're not getting all the nutrients that they need. Whether they're eating lunch that's been packed for them, whether they ate breakfast or not before they left home to go to school, they're just not getting the nutrients that they need and so they are not able to pay attention in school.

The program, if passed, will be funded in two ways. The first is an increase in state income taxes for households with incomes of $300,000 or above, and increased federal funding. So, for example, if your household income is $375,000 annually, the increase in taxes will be $450 annually. The program has a staggered approach. So while students will begin to have free meals next school year, the training for cafeteria staff workers and the implementation of new equipment will come over the course of the next three to four years. In the meantime, though, students will be able to eat fresh, healthy meals at school and have the opportunity to perform at their best during school hours.

This is one very big step to making sure that our future are getting the nutrients that they need to learn and really assuring that they're getting good, healthy meals.

To learn more about Proposition FF and other information on this November's ballot, check out this year's blue ballot information booklet mailed to the address of every voter or online at leg.colorado.gov and search ballot information booklet 2022. Thank you for watching this edition of the Local News Network. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.

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