An upcoming state ballot initiative to provide free meals for all students drew mixed views during the Adams 12 Board of Education meeting on Wednesday.
If passed by voters in November, Colorado Proposition FF would establish the Healthy School Meals for All Program to provide students two meals during the school day. Participating schools would be reimbursed for providing free meals via local food purchasing grants and school food-related funding.
By a split 3-2 vote the Adams 12 Board of Education approved a resolution asking that voters approve Colorado Proposition FF this November.
“This is just a basic need,” board member Amira Assad-Lucas said.
More than 60,000 students in Colorado are unable to afford school meals, but fail to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, according to nonprofit Hunger Free Colorado, which also reports that two out of five families struggle to feed their children.
Shaming concerns for students who currently qualify as low-income households to receive free or reduced lunches were highlighted by board President Lori Goldstein.
“Sometimes it’s the only meal they get all day,” she said.
Ensuring students are adequately nourished is crucial for retention skills, Goldstein noted.
Taking a different bent was board member Courtney Potter, who suggested other avenues existed to remove stigmas for students to utilize the current free or reduced lunch program.
“Can we change the process of how children get their free and reduced lunch?” she said. “The families that can afford to purchase their kids lunch, or send their kids with cold lunch, they’re the ones that are going to be paying for this.”
Another concern aired by Potter was that the program would provide funding to food vendors and not directly to schools.
“What is preventing the vendor from price gouging?” she said.
During the height of COVID all students were provided free lunches, which Potter said was abused in some instances.
“It was accessible to them even when they did not necessarily need it,” she said.
Potter questioned the need to provide free food for the entire student body as existing programs already address the issue of food insecurity.
“I would much rather see funding go to special needs students and other areas in our district where we are struggling,” she said.
Also on the fence was board member Jamey Lockley.
“I see the value in what this is trying to address,” she said.
Still, Lockley said the proposal only considers one small component of food insecurity for families.
“I would like to see a measure that addresses it in a larger and more systemic way,” she said. “The state has a bad habit of piecemealing things.”
Lockley and Potter voted against recommending voters support Proposition FF this November.