Free breakfast returns for Pa. school students this year, Gov. Wolf announces
"I’m taking hunger off the table for Pennsylvania kids by creating the Universal Free Breakfast Program," Gov. Wolf said Friday.
Pennsylvania will provide every child enrolled in school with free breakfast this academic year, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Friday.
The program, which will cost $21.5 million in state funds, will affect 1.7 million children in public, private, and charter schools that participate in the National Free Lunch Program.
“It is completely unacceptable for a child to start the day hungry,” Wolf said in a statement. “I’m taking hunger off the table for Pennsylvania kids by creating the Universal Free Breakfast Program. Regardless of whether or not they qualify for free or reduced meals normally, every student enrolled in public or private schools will have the opportunity to feed their belly before they feed their mind this school year.”
The Pennsylvania program begins Oct. 1 and will last through the end of the school year. It will be paid for through the state’s School Food Services General Fund appropriation, which has extra money from when the federal government provided free breakfast and lunch to all schools during the first two years of the pandemic, a program it has declined to extend.
Officials said that while they would have liked to provide free breakfasts and free lunches, they did not have the funding.
Melissa Froehlich, coordinator of School Nutrition Services for the North Penn School District and a member of the School Nutrition Association of Pennsylvania, said that free breakfast will make a difference for many children.
“Universal free school breakfast across Pennsylvania helps to ensure every student will start their day with a healthy, nutritious meal,” Froehlich said in a statement. “Research supports that a well-nourished child who starts the day with breakfast is more likely to be at school, has improved concentration, and is more willing to participate in the classroom.”
Many more students ate breakfast in school when it was free. In the 2018-19 school year, when meals were not universally offered, to 2021-22, when schools operated in person and breakfast was free to all, Pennsylvania children’s breakfast participation went up by nearly 16%, state officials said.
Some districts, like Philadelphia, already provide universal free breakfast and lunch to students because of the high rates of poverty among students.
But in other districts, the loss of the federal free-meals program has stung, especially for families who are close to qualifying but don’t, and who are also coping with rising food prices.
State Sen. Lindsey Williams, Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee and an advocate for childhood nutrition, commended Wolf’s Universal School Breakfast Program.
“These investments in school meals relieve the pressure on our families as grocery prices rise and ensure that all students can access nutritious food without shame or stigma,” said Williams, in a statement. “I’m grateful for all of the work being done to keep students from going hungry.”