In an effort to provide California students with healthier, more sustainable food options, Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced a proposal of $70 million for fresher, more nutritious school meals in his 2020-21 preliminary budget Friday morning.
The funding, if approved, would provide a 40% increase to local school food-service programs across the state and aims to serve freshly prepared and local-grown food. The proposal also aims to push for more sustainability initiatives.
“This would be something really wonderful,” said Robert Lewis, CEO of SCV School Food Services Agency. “We have a tough time staying within budget because the cost of food is always going up, especially when you’re trying to give students fresh food — so any release would be a great help.”
As of now, the federal government is the primary source of funding for school meals, according to Lewis. “It totals to about 23 cents per meal, so we’ll welcome any funding the state can give.” On average, the cost of a reduced-price school lunch is $3.03 and breakfast is $1.54, according to the California Department of Education .
Organizations in agriculture, education and public health have contributed to make an argument as to why such a high dollar amount should be invested in school meals.
Lewis said he’s worked alongside one of the organizations, Ecoliteracy, a nonprofit aimed to maintain a level of sustainability and educate children on nutrition.
“They’ve helped food directors get in touch with the community and promote school wellness policies. They’ve helped me a great deal in my career,” he said.
When asked about the benefits to local schools, Lewis said not only would students benefit from healthier food options, but also school kitchens would be able to upgrade cooking utensils and other kitchen equipment.
“There are many schools that don’t offer breakfast programs so this increase can bring more of that,” said Lewis.
Minimum wage was another issue touched on, saying since it increases every January, an increase in the budget can help food service agencies meet that requirement.
Lewis said he and directors in other districts will be traveling to Sacramento at the end of the month to advocate for healthier meals and nutrition education in schools.
The California Legislature will begin a detailed review of Newsom’s proposal later this month.