The New York State Educational Conference Board, a consortium of seven statewide educational organizations, is calling on lawmakers to launch a statewide universal school meals program.
In a paper released Wednesday, the ECB also recommends several steps to expand the reach of current state and federal school meal programs, streamline the eligibility process for students, and reduce costs for school districts as part of the universal approach.
"Students need healthy meals to be physically and mentally ready to learn when they come to school," said John Yagielski, chair of the ECB. "Adoption of these recommendations can help ensure that all children receive nutritious breakfasts and lunches, no questions asked, regardless of their home address or family income."
While the U.S. Department of Agriculture has given school districts broad flexibility to provide all students with free meals during the pandemic, the federal provisions are set to expire on June 30.
Money from the federal Build Back Better Act could lower the cost of a universal free meals program in New York. But the ECB also is calling for state action to help improve efficiency and ensure that no students are excluded because of cumbersome or complex eligibility requirements.
"No child should be denied nutritious school meals because of paperwork requirements or red tape," Yagielski said. "All students deserve an opportunity to be at their best when they are in school."
The ECB is calling for expansion of a program known as "direct certification" to make sure that more students, including those who are homeless or are in foster care, are automatically certified to receive meals.
Other recommendations would: help meal providers keep up with the rising cost of food; improve linkages among after-school meal providers, including the Department of Health and Office of Children and Family Services; and provide more flexibility in purchasing practices and meal delivery locations when districts encounter supply chain delays and limits on school cafeteria capacity.
The ECB’s full school meals paper can be found at: https://www.nyssba.org/clientuploads/nyssba_pdf/Press-Release/ecb-meals-program-rev2-01112022.pdf.
The New York State Educational Conference Board is comprised of the Conference of Big 5 School Districts; the New York State Council of School Superintendents; New York State PTA; New York State School Boards Association; New York State United Teachers; and the School Administrators Association of New York State.