A State law that expanded free meals in schools to all students has doubled the number of meals served in the local district each year.
Under the recently passed Assembly Bill 130, all students are eligible for a free breakfast and lunch with many taking advantage of the newly available food. According to SMMUSD, in the precovid year of 2018/19, SMMUSD served 318,792 lunches and officials said they expect to serve 616,500 (3,500 per day) this year.
In July 2021, Assembly Bill 130 was signed into law by Governor Newsom, allowing for changes to the state meal mandate. Built off of three pillars, California is now required to provide breakfast and lunch to all students, require high poverty schools to participate in a federal provision and finally provide funding from the State Legislature to cover meal reimbursement for the Universal Meals Program. While other major cities such as New York and Chicago have created similar meals programs, California has become the first state to implement a statewide free meals program.
“The students we have spoken to have mentioned that it is nice to not have to worry about getting money for lunch from their parents or having to remember to bring it from home. It’s our goal to serve healthy and tasty food that students enjoy. We follow state guidelines regarding nutrition and look to offer a variety of options that meets the interests and food preferences of our students,” said Food Services Director Richard Marchini.
The state expanded food access starting with the COVID-19 pandemic, where school lunch costs were waived after the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reimbursed districts that provided their students with free food. At the end of the 2021-22 school year, California invested $650 million to allow the continuity of free lunches.
Since then, another $150 million has been invested statewide to support new kitchen infrastructure as well as training.
Students at Samohi have been taking advantage of this new development.
“I used to never get cafeteria food in middle school, but once I got to high school I started getting it more because they have different options everyday,” said Sawyer Badt.
Marchini said supply chain issues have prevented the availability of some items and officials have to be careful in how they source ingredients due to limited reimbursement rates.
“This requires very careful shopping and selection as we seek to procure high qualify, low fat, tasty fare for our students,” he said.
While some students said they felt the offerings lacked enough options for vegan or other specialized diets, Andrea Gaeta said she appreciated the meals. “The cafeteria food quality is so much better than my previous years at school,” she said.
While food remains free for all, SMMUSD still asks those who are eligible to submit a free and reduced meal application, as it allows the district to receive funding at Title 1 schools for programs unrelated to nutrition such as music.
Updates on the nutrition program will be presented at the Feb. 2 School Board Meeting.
Other agenda items
This week’s meeting agenda also includes reshuffling of the District’s general obligation bonds to allow them to save money in the current conditions of the bond market. The district says these savings will potentially be passed along to property taxpayers by canceling or repurchasing bonds.
The Board will also review Board member’s liaison assignments to district advisory committees(DAC) and other organizations for 2023. Each year, members are assigned to act as liaisons to several of these various groups which include early education, health and safety, intercultural equity and excellence DACS and the Ed Foundation and Financial Oversight Committee among others.
In closed session, prior to the public portion of the meeting, board members will meet with legal counsel to discuss several ongoing and pending cases including one related to measure GS and several relating to special education.
The public portion of the meeting will begin at 5:30 pm on Thursday Feb. 2, and will be held in person at 1651 16th St., Santa Monica with the option to watch online via YouTube available as well. Virtual comments via Zoom will not be possible this week due to technical issues, according to a SMMUSD spokesperson. Those wishing to address the board in person must turn in a request to speak card at the meeting. The full agenda can be found on the SMMUSD website: https://www.smmusd.org/domain/2977 .
Reporter Grace Inez Adams contributed to this report. [email protected]
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