Federal bill pushes for whole milk in schools

Also in this week’s K-12 legislative update: Illinois looks to reimburse schools for the actual cost of free meals, while New Jersey and Washington consider expanding free meal access.
A student grabs a milk carton in the cafeteria
A federal bill introduced in the House would allow schools who participate in the National School Lunch Program to serve whole milk. / Photo: Shutterstock

It’s been another busy week in the world of school nutrition legislation.

More universal free meals bills are the docket, reimbursement is up for debate in Illinois and milk continues to be a flash point. Here’s a look at the latest. 

Lawmakers want whole milk in schools 

A federal bill introduced in the House by Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) and Kim Schrier (D-Wash.) would allow schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to serve whole milk.

Milk is a source of three nutrients Americans don’t get enough of and offering a wider array of milk options could increase students’ intake, the legislators argue in a press release. 

“Bad federal policy has kept whole milk out of our school cafeterias for too long,” Thompson said in the release. “Milk is the number one source of 13 essential nutrients. In order for students to excel in the classroom, they must have access to proper nutrition. It is my hope the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act will give children a wide variety of milk options and bolster milk consumption—a win-win for growing children and America’s dairy farmers.” 

The bill, H.R 1147, would enable both flavored and unflavored whole milk to be served.

Milk has become a growing center of debate in the discussion around school meals. Earlier this month, a federal bill that would allow schools to serve flavored milk got a second life in Congress. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed revisions to the milk requirements in school meals, one of which would limit flavored milks to high schools.

The full text of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act has yet to be released. It has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Workforce.

New Jersey bill to expand free school meals advances 

The New Jersey Senate has advanced a bill aiming to increase meal access for students by making the application process for free and reduced-price meals less confusing for families. 

Under S-530, sponsored by State Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, New Jersey schools would be required to distribute hard copies of school meal program information and free or reduced-price meals applications to parents and guardians at the start of the school year. 

The information would also need to be in a language understood by the respective parent or guardian, and explain that applications for free and reduced-price meals can be submitted throughout the year and must be resubmitted annually. Parents and guardians would then have to return the completed application or sign a card provided by the district saying that they are aware of the program but are not interested in participating. 

Illinois bill would change reimbursement rate for free and reduced-price meals

A bill introduced in the Illinois Senate would require the State Board of Education to reimburse schools for the actual cost of each free breakfast or lunch they provide instead of reimbursing $0.15 or the actual cost, whichever is less. That state reimbursement would be in addition to any federal contributions. 

The bill, which has been referred to the Appropriations-Education Committee, would allow for more substantial reimbursement at a time when operators are concerned about rising costs and the higher federal meal reimbursement rates offered under the Keep Kids Fed Act are due to expire at the end of the school year.

Washington state downgrades universal free meals bill 

Lawmakers in Washington have scaled back a universal free meals bill that was introduced earlier this year.

House Bill 1238 was amended to require elementary schools to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students starting next school year only if 40% or more of their students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. In addition, elementary schools where between 30% and 40% of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals would be required to provide universal free meals starting in the 2024-25 school year. 

The original bill sought to offer free meals to all 1.1 million public school students in the state, regardless of their family income.

See which states currently offer, or are considering, universal free meals via the map below:



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