An expansion of free school lunches signed into law

More students will have access to free school meals thanks to a new law.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed HB 1238 on Tuesday, which will expand the state’s free school meals program, regardless of ability to pay.

The bill would require school districts to provide breakfast and lunch without charge to any requesting students at public schools serving any of the grades of kindergarten through grade 4, when 30 percent or more of the students within the school are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. 

The bill also states that students will be given the breakfast, lunch, or both without charge or consideration if they are eligible for the federally reimbursed free or reduced-price meal. 

Meals provided must be “nutritiously adequate” and qualify for federal reimbursement under the school lunch program or the school breakfast program, and students are not eligible for more than one meal at a time.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction will reimburse school districts on a per meal reimbursement basis for meals that are not already reimbursed at the Department of Agriculture’s free rate. 

“Our kids need access to nutritious food to grow, learn, and be healthy. Universal school meals is our goal, but this is a great step forward and will mean that over half of our 1.1 million public school students will qualify for free school meals,” said bill sponsor Representative Melanie Morgan.

All 6 local legislators in the 19th and 24th districts voted in favor of the bill.

This bill follows legislation over the last five years, including “Breakfast After the Bell” in 2018 (HB 1508), Representative Riccelli’s legislation requiring more schools to participate in the USDA Community Eligibility Program (CEP) in 2020 (HB 2660), and a follow-up bill providing funding to more schools required to participate in CEP as recently as 2022 (HB 1878). 

Changes to the free school meal program will be fully implemented on September 1, 2024.