PI Editorial: Colorado voters should pass FF to provide free school lunch for students

Post Independent Editorial Board

Free school lunch for all students in the United States was perhaps the best policy enacted during the early stages of the pandemic. 

While the federal government shouldn’t have canceled it, Colorado voters have the chance to make sure a similar program benefits students statewide by passing Proposition FF, Healthy School Meals for All, this fall.

Free lunches were provided to help make sure that students didn’t go hungry during a time when many parents were asked to stay home or were otherwise unable to work. Providing free access to all students not only erased any perceived stigma, it also meant that students whose parents were just outside of qualifying for free or reduced lunch could now benefit. It also meant that all parents of students received a little bit of financial help at a time of high uncertainty. 

Then, the U.S. Department of Agriculture canceled the program before the start of this school year. 

While the pandemic might be less of a worry for many now, inflation means that everyone, regardless of income, is paying more for food, gas and more. Many in our state recognized this error and, instead of waiting for the feds to step up, gave voters this fall the chance to do right by our youth.

As explained in this fall’s Blue Book, the program not only provides free lunch to all students beginning with the 2024-2025 school year but also prioritizes sourcing food locally. This means West Slope growers and ranchers could see a financial benefit from the program as well.

It also allows flexibility for school districts who for one reason or another don’t want to participate with an opt-out clause. However, we hope that districts all through Colorado, and especially here in Garfield County, would recognize the benefit and participate.

How is Proposition FF paid for? Through a reduction in state tax refunds for those making $300,000 or more. Some might argue that it is better that such benefit programs get buy-in from all taxpayers, this targeted approach means roughly 95% of all Colorado taxpayers wouldn’t see a reduction in their refunds. Those who would be paying for the program would only see their returns reduced by an average of $450 for a married couple filing jointly and claiming the standard $25,900 deduction.

The program also makes sure that the state still benefits from federal funding for students who qualify under current free lunch programs, meaning there’s no waste or double-spending.

All of this is why we believe it’s an easy win for us as a state to pass Proposition FF. Doing so will help ensure all our students receive school lunch and provide them with the nutrition vital to their growth and development.

The Post Independent editorial board members are Editor Peter Baumann, Managing Editor/Senior Reporter John Stroud and community representatives Mark Fishbein and Danielle Becker.

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