As of 2020, over 537,000—or 51% of—Arizona students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
Before leaving office, former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announced a $6.75 million investment allowing more students to eat free lunches.
The allocation of federal pandemic relief funding will allow students who qualify for reduced-price meals to eat for free through the 2023-24 school year.
Doug Nick, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Education, confirmed the investment is still happening under newly elected Superintendent Tom Horne.
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According to Hoffman, the investment will pay for over 2.2 million meals. Reduced-price meals cost up to 40 cents for lunch and 30 cents for breakfast.
“Ensuring no child goes hungry is not a political issue—we have a moral obligation as a state to do so,” Hoffman tweeted on Dec. 14. “I strongly believe school meals should be universally free across our country because students cannot learn effectively if one of their most basic needs is not met.”
In a press release, Hoffman urged the Arizona Legislature to make the school lunch funding permanent once this round expires.
Tackling Great Need
According to the Arizona Food Bank Network, 1 in 6 Arizona children faces food insecurity.
A recent review of academic studies found that providing healthy school meals for all students is associated with better diet quality, food security, academic performance, and attendance.
“We all know it’s harder for our students to succeed when they are hungry,” Dr. Melissa Sadorf, superintendent of Stanfield Elementary School District, said in an Arizona Department of Education press release. “Allocating funds to ensure that thousands of Arizona students are supported by providing access to nutritious food helps our schools to address the lingering concerns caused by the pandemic.”
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Families must meet income eligibility requirements and submit an application to qualify for reduced-price meals. For example, a family of four must make a little less than $52,000 to qualify. A family of four making less than $36,076 per year would qualify for free meals federally through the National School Lunch Program.
Many Arizona school districts partner with Titan School Solutions to determine eligibility for the reduced-price meal program. Nick with the state education department said families should check with their local school for more information on joining the program.