Universal free meals bill heads to Illinois governor’s desk

Also in this week’s legislative update: Rhode Island’s Senate passes two universal free meals bills.
Students eating lunch in the cafeteria
Lawmakers in Illinois and Rhode Island have voted in favor of universal free meals at school. / Photo: Shutterstock

Universal free meals are one step closer to becoming a reality in Illinois and Rhode Island after lawmakers in both states voted in favor of them. 

Here’s a look at the latest in school meal legislation. 

Illinois could be next state to enact universal free meals 

A universal free meals bill in Illinois has passed the state’s House and Senate. HB 2471 would provide free meals at school each day to students, and the State Board of Education would be responsible for overseeing the program. 

The bill now heads to Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk and will take effect when signed into law. If signed, Illinois will join Minnesota, New Mexico, Colorado, California and Maine in offering universal free meals. 

Rhode Island Senate also says yes to universal free meals 

Meanwhile in Rhode Island, the Senate has passed two universal free meals bills. 

2023-S 0068, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Sandra Cano, would require that all elementary and secondary public school students receive free school meals to the extent that state and federal funds are available. It would do this by removing language in the General Laws that states only students and families who meet certain financial requirements be offered free lunch. 

A similar bill introduced by Sen. Jonathon Acosta would require schools to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students by also amending the state’s General Laws. It would insert “free breakfast” into the statute that applies to free school lunches and also eliminate the language that states only students and families who meet specific requirements be offered free lunch. 

“While our free and reduced meal programs in public schools help many children, the current status quo still leaves too many students hungry during the school day for reasons such as social stigma, family finances or varying other factors,” Sen. Acosta said in a statement. “While the causes for each individual case of child hunger in school may be complex, the solution to every instance is astonishingly simple—provide free and healthy meals for all of our students. The evidence and data proving the effectiveness of this approach is plain as day and it’s time we give our students the most important thing they need for educational success—a school day free from hunger.” 

Both bills are now headed to the House. 

See which states currently offer universal free meals via the map below:



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