Colorado voters to decide fate of Healthy School Meals for All program on the November ballot
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Under the proposal, tax deductions on higher incomes would be restructured so that the revenue can fund the Healthy School Meals for All program.
The current deduction cap of $30,000 for single filers and $60,000 for joint filers for incomes $400,000 and higher would be reduced to $12,000 and $16,000 respectively for incomes of $300,000 and higher.
The revenue from the higher tax burden would fund the provision of free healthy breakfasts and lunches to all students regardless of income. The funding would also help schools purchase locally grown food products and educate students on nutrition and food preparation.
If approved, the ballot initiative would raise $100 million and have little impact on students from families earning less than 185% of the federal poverty line who already have access to free or subsidized meals.
The program would also establish parent-student advisory committees across participating public schools to oversee the program and ensure that meals are healthy and appealing to all by the 2023-2024 school year.
The federal free-meals program to feed all public school students regardless of their family’s income expired this fall with the new school year.
Opponents to the measure question the program’s funding viability and impact. Arguments outlined in the official state voter guide are that the measure raises taxes at a time of high inflation and rising cost of living and the state should not be assisting children who can afford to purchase school meals or bring food from home.
The guide adds that if voters want to increase taxes to help students, the money would be better spent in ways such as raising teacher salaries or boosting overall funding to public schools.
The Common Sense Institute, a conservative think tank, estimates a potential funding shortfall by the program’s second year, based on food inflation and management factors, of up to $4.2 million in 2024.
Proponents of the measure say the growing food insecurity in the state is negatively impacting student health and education.
Children attending schools with school nutrition programs have improved scores on standardized academic tests, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, one of the 113 organizations that support the measure.
Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez (D – Denver), who sponsored HB 1414, recently told the Colorado Sun she believes the program will be beneficial to all students, regardless of income.
“If [this initiative] means we’re going to feed a kid who comes from a family that can afford food for them, I don’t see any issue with that,” Gutierrez said.
“They’re all kids, and at any moment at this time in this world we live in, most people are one paycheck away from not having those means to meet those basic needs.”
The number of American children facing hunger increased to 12 million in 2020, according to Feeding America. It projects 42 million Americans will experience food insecurity this year due to the pandemic’s economic impact, a 20% increase from 2019.