By Diana Diaz and Kayla Kaufman
It’s that time again! Ballots are out and many decisions are being made. One ballot measure to highlight is Colorado Proposition FF, which aims to provide school meals free-of-charge to all public school students, by limiting tax deductions for individuals whose federal taxable income is $300,000 or more. This would increase state taxes by $100,727,820 annually.
The money would reimburse school districts for the cost of school meals and, if passed, could have a significant impact on students’ access to a meal at school.
Proposition FF would provide every student with breakfast and lunch at school for free, which is different from programs, such as government-provided free and reduced lunches, that are only available to students who qualify, leaving out many students who still cannot afford a meal at school.
As reported by Chalkbeat Colorado, “Households that earn less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level, or $32,630 for a family of four, qualify for free lunch through the federal program. Families who earn between 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty limit, or up to $46,435 for a family of four, qualify for a reduced-price lunch.”
“The funding for this program will make our schools a more equitable and better place for many children,” Ashley Wheeland, director of public policy for Hunger-Free Colorado, told the Sopris Sun. “It will mean that no student, no matter their situation, will be denied a school meal or treated differently.”
In the 2020-2021 school year, school lunches were free due to COVID-19, causing a significant increase in meals served and demonstrating that many students are not inclined to choose school meals when they bear a personal cost.
While the ingredients and nutritional value of school meals are important, Proposition FF would not affect them. Each school district decides on food sources for breakfasts and lunches, following national nutrition standards for meals served in schools. Although Proposition FF would not directly affect current food sourcing, it would contribute funds for schools to purchase food from local farmers and ranchers.
“Studies show students need adequate food to learn, and healthy food helps students do even better. Also, many students who are hungry have other challenges like stress and behavior issues,” Wheeland explained.
This measure would also allow parents and families of students some food security and less guilt and worry about struggling to send kids to school with a wholesome meal.
While no organized group is raising funds to defeat the measure, some have objected to a tax increase on wealthier Coloradans and say that the state should not pay for families who have the means to afford school meals.
A voting guide shared by the Garfield County Republicans recommends voting against Proposition FF because it “takes away the state income tax deduction for certain charitable givers.” The guide continues, “When Hawaii passed a similar law, charitable giving in the state fell by 20%.”
Another aspect of the school lunch system that would be affected by Proposition FF is wages earned by employees who prepare meals for students. For participating schools, employees would be provided with stipends or wage increases if they provide documentation of complying with the standards for meals. As long as districts use 100% of reimbursements toward school meals and provide evidence of such, employees’ wages could be increased, or they could earn stipends.
If Proposition FF passes, it will cause many changes to school-provided meals that will affect students, families and employees alike. As the people of Colorado vote, these are factors to consider on Proposition FF.