Gov. Maura T. Healey and Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll hosted a press conference Thursday morning (Sept. 14) at Snug Harbor Elementary School in Quincy, to celebrate her administration delivering permanent universal free school meals for K-12 students in Massachusetts.
The governor was joined at the celebration by House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano, Chair Aaron Michlewitz, bill sponsors Representatives Tackey Chan and Bruce Ayers, and Erin McAleer, the president and CEO of Project Bread, all of whom highlighted the impact the program is expected to have in addressing hunger and advancing equity for students across the state.
“We’re making school lunch and breakfast free for all students permanently in Massachusetts,” said Gov. Healey. “By delivering universal free meals, this administration is making clear that nothing is more important than ensuring our kids are fed, healthy, and ready to learn and play and grow.”
“Universal free school meals are an investment in childhood nutrition, ensuring each of our school-aged students has access to the healthy food they need to fuel their learning,” said Lt. Gov. Driscoll. “This policy is also removing a source of stress from families and schools, leading to one less task for parents to complete in the morning, and making sure no student feels stigmatized or ashamed for accessing the food they need.”
The fiscal 2024 budget that Governor Healey signed on August 9, 2023 delivered $172 million in permanent state funding to provide universal free school meals for K-12 students. This funding, paired with federal reimbursement for eligible meals, means that all students who attend schools that participate in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs are entitled to one free lunch and breakfast each school day.
“During my 12 years as a teacher in the Quincy Public School System, I saw up-close just how important it is to ensure that a student’s ability to focus and ultimately succeed in the classroom is not affected by their family’s financial circumstances,” said House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano. “I’m incredibly proud that Massachusetts will be one of the first 8 states to permanently provide free school meals for all students, a vital initiative that furthers the Commonwealth’s role as a national leader in education. I want to thank Chairman Michlewitz and my colleagues in the House, as well as the Healey Administration, our partners in the Senate, and the folks at Project Bread for recognizing the critical nature of this program, and for working to make it a reality.”
“Making school meals free for students in Massachusetts will keep our young people focused on learning and provide financial relief for families who will save hundreds of dollars per student every year,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “It’s a proud moment for me—and for our entire Commonwealth—to know that our students and their families will have one less thing to think about before heading out the door for class every morning.”
“Our families, schools and communities are stronger when kids don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from and when school staff don’t have to worry about whether their students are hungry,” said Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch. “We are honored to welcome Governor Healey, Lieutenant Governor Driscoll and Speaker Mariano to Quincy today to celebrate this policy that will have widespread positive impacts for our city.”
“Making school meals free for all is a historic victory for Massachusetts families and children. It will have a lasting impact on the health and wellbeing of an entire generation. We are so grateful to Governor Healey, the legislature and the thousands of advocates across the Commonwealth who took action for our kids. It is an incredible example of the change that we can make when we all come together around a common purpose,” said Erin McAleer, president and CEO of Project Bread.
Universal free meals began as a national program with federal funding during the pandemic, and Massachusetts continued it on a trial basis. With this year’s budget, the Healey-Driscoll Administration, along with partners in the legislature, are making the commitment permanent. From now on, free, nutritious meals will be available to all students without stigma — helping ensure that students are better prepared to learn. By being one of the few states continuing this transformative program, Massachusetts is leading the way in addressing child nutrition, child hunger, and taking a more holistic approach to student needs.
“Food security is essential for learning, which is why the Healey-Driscoll administration has delivered $172 million for universal school lunch in our first budget,” said Secretary of Education Dr. Patrick Tutwiler. “It’s related to a hierarchy of need—students can’t be focus on their lessons in the classroom if they continue to be hungry. Aligned with our goals to stabilize, heal, and transform our education system, this funding will ensure that students can focus on their classes in school, instead of where their next meal is coming from.”
“Thank you to Governor Healey, Lieutenant Governor Driscoll, Speaker Mariano, and Chairman Michlewitz for the leadership in enacting this very important legislation for our students and families,” said Quincy School Supt. Kevin Mulvey. “Since the inception of this universal meals program, Quincy Public Schools has seen a 25% increase in the number of meals served. The funding will help us improve the overall quality and freshness of our meals by expanding purchasing of food items grown locally”
The universal free school meals program will cover the cost of one lunch and breakfast including fruit, vegetables and whole grains, as per the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. School cafeterias might also choose to offer “a la carte” items for a fee. These items might include milk (if purchased alone) or an extra slice of pizza, and students must pay for those. Students must also pay if they want a second lunch or breakfast on the same day. Students’ first complete breakfast and lunch each day is covered.