California bill would expand children's access to free school meals

Sacramento City Unified School District says eating during class could be disruptive

An Oakland-based food policy nonprofit is trying to make school-time meals more accessible to low-income California children.

California Food Policy Advocates is promoting Assembly Bill 1240, which would require schools with more than 60 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches to serve a breakfast after the start of the school day.

Sacramento City Unified School District already offers free breakfast to all of its students—not just the 70 percent who qualify for free or discounted meals. About one-third of the district's students take advantage, says spokesman Gabe Ross, who notes that school meals may be the only ones some students have all day.

But CFPA argues that many kids don't make it to school early enough to eat before class, or simply aren't hungry when they do get there. The group also argues that the bill would mean additional food prep jobs and federal funding for the schools.

While the proposed legislation could increase participation in federal meal programs, Ross suggests there are logistical obstacles to providing meals after instruction has already begun, including a disruption in the learning environment. It's not clear how the additional requirement would affect mandated instructional hours.

Sacramento children could conceivably receive three meals a day through the district as it is. SCUSD serves about 6,500 “at risk” suppers daily, according to nutrition services director Brenda Padilla, and more than 225,000 summer lunches at 55 Sacramento-area sites, including several public pools. Approximately 5,000 California schools would have to comply if AB 1240 passes. This year's summer meal program starts June 22.