Ohio’s Budget Increases Funding for School Meals, but Leaves Some Kids Out

Since March 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided waivers to schools, allowing them to serve meals at no cost to all students. The waivers expired last summer. Ohio lawmakers debated how much of the funding to replace, if any, in this year’s budget discussions. The final budget, signed by Governor Dewine, increases the number of students eligible for free meals, but doesn’t install the universal meal coverage advocated for by organizations like the Children’s Defense Fund.

According to WYSO’s Alejandro Figueroa, the state’s two-year budget signed by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) on Wednesday, earmarks $8.4 million to pay for free school meals for some income-eligible K-12 students. This means that about 80,000 more students in Ohio will now be able to eat for free.

 Some advocates say this does not go far enough, though.

Figueroa reports that several school districts across the state reported student lunch debt increased significantly after the pandemic waiver ended. One district in Central Ohio reported over $40,000 in combined student lunch debt, according to the Children’s Defense Fund Ohio.

Katherine Ungar, senior policy associate for the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio, said ensuring kids have access to daily healthy meals sets them up for academic success, according to Nadia Ramlagan, Ohio News Service 

Ungar emphasize that more work that needs to be done at the state level. 

WYSO quotes her, “We’re working to make Ohio a place where every student in the state has access to both breakfast and lunch at no cost,” Ungar said. “So the momentum is building across the country. And while we have this step forward that we’re celebrating in our state budget, we have a lot of work left to do.”

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