North Carolina introduces grant program to boost school breakfast participation

Also in this week’s K-12 legislative update: New York schools can apply for new farm-to-school grant funding and federal lawmakers introduce another bill that would raise school meal reimbursement rates.
Students eating lunch in the cafeteria
Schools in North Carolina will be able to apply for new grant funding to expand their school breakfast programs. | Photo: Shutterstock

It’s been a busy couple of days when it comes to school meal legislation across the country. K-12 operators in North Carolina and New York will be able to apply for grant funding to expand their school breakfast and farm-to-school efforts. At the federal level, a group of Senators have introduced a companion bill to the Healthy Meals Helps Kids Learn Act which would increase the reimbursement rate for school meals. 

Here is the latest in school nutrition legislation. 

North Carolina invests in school breakfast 

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced the availability of $1.4 million in federal funding to expand school breakfast programs throughout the state. The funds will be used to create a grant program intended to help schools grow their breakfast participation. 

The governor has partnered with the North Carolina Alliance for Health (NCAH) and the Carolina Hunger Initiative (CHI) to oversee the program.

NCAH and CHI will award grants of up to $50,000 to schools to help them implement a variety of school breakfast models, including breakfast after the bell, breakfast in the classroom and grab-and-go breakfast. Schools that participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a program that lets schools in low-income areas feed all students for free, will get priority for the grants. Schools that are awarded grants will also receive technical assistance from NCAH and CHI to help them with implementing their breakfast program. 

“A child who is hungry can’t learn and many children can’t or won’t eat when they have to get up so early,” said Governor Cooper in a statement. “Innovative efforts that get breakfast to children in the classroom are proven to encourage them to eat which will improve their educational success.”

This is the latest effort by the governor to expand school meal access in the state. In his 2023-25 budget, he included funding to cover free meals at school to students who qualify for reduced-price meals and proposed a pilot program to provide additional funding to CEP schools. Both measures were included in the final version of the state budget

New York announces new farm-to-school grants 

Schools in New York looking to grow their farm-to-school program can now apply for new grant funding from the state.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced $10 million is available through Round 1 of New York’s Regional School Food Infrastructure Grant Program. The program is intended to support school nutrition programs’ efforts to improve school kitchens and create more meals from scratch using products sourced locally. 

“Through our Farm-to-School program and our 30 percent New York State Initiative for schools, we have made huge strides in bringing our farmers and our schools together, making lasting connections to purchase more local foods for school meals than ever before,” Governor Hochul said in statement. “This Regional School Food Infrastructure Grant Program will build on the success of these programs and provide the much-needed support to help schools cook delicious meals for our young people. Providing healthy, balanced meals equals better learning for students statewide and supports our agricultural community at the same time.”

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets is overseeing the program. It will provide $50 million in grant funding over five years to eligible applicants. 

Earlier this year, the state also awarded over $850,000 in farm-to-school grants to 10 programs throughout New York that are working to expand the amount of locally grown food on school menus, improve student health and strengthen local economies.  

Federal lawmakers push for higher school meal reimbursement rates 

A group of Senators have introduced a bill that would permanently increase the reimbursement rate for school meals. 

The piece of legislation is a companion bill to the Healthy Meals Helps Kids Learn Act (HMHKLA) that was introduced in the House in March.

The bill would increase the federal reimbursement level for all free, reduced-price and paid-rate school meals by 45 cents for every lunch served and 28 cents for every breakfast served. The reimbursement would be adjusted annually. 

As school nutrition operators continue to deal with rising costs, this legislation would help keep budgets in check. A survey by the School Nutrition Association earlier this year revealed that rising costs are cited as the top concern for school nutrition professionals. 

The bill is cosponsored by several senators, including Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

“No child should be worried about where their next meal comes from, and no child should EVER be in debt because they can’t afford school lunch. This bill will provide schools the necessary resources to meet our children’s basic needs,” said Senator Fetterman in a statement.



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