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Policy and Advocacy

Secured for increased school meal reimbursements and School Meals for All in the 2023-24 California budget

Policy and Advocacy

We advocate for policies that support and inspire sustainable school communities.

Thoughtfully designed and implemented policies create conditions that ensure students flourish and thrive. Schools play a critical role in children's health and we are proud to be a part of California's leadership in groundbreaking policies to advance school nutrition. The Center for Ecoliteracy works with partners and school districts at the local, state, and national level. California Food for California Kids® advances policy solutions that transform school food systems and how students learn about the food they eat. 

In 2021, the Center for Ecoliteracy, along with a coalition of over 200 organizations, partnered with State Senator Nancy Skinner to successfully advocate for the adoption of School Meals for All in the 2021–22 California budget, making California the first state in the nation to permanently provide free breakfast and lunch to all K–12 students. The state policy provided continuity for families when the federal waivers that allowed every child to eat for free during the COVID-19 pandemic expired in June 2022. The 2021–22 budget also included complementary policies to help schools realize the full potential of school meals: $150 million for Kitchen Infrastructure and Training to serve freshly-prepared school meals and $30 million for Farm to School in both 2021 and 2022. 

Since the landmark School Meals for All policy passed in 2021, the Center for Ecoliteracy has continued to advocate for school nutrition programs. In California’s 2022-23 state budget, an investment of $2 billion was made in school nutrition, creating a system of support to transform school meals. This included $600 million for Kitchen Infrastructure and Training, $100 million for the School Food Best Practices Program, $612 million for an increased state meal reimbursement, an additional $60 million for Farm to School, $45 million for the Healthy School Food Pathways program, and $2.4 million to evaluate School Meals for All. In the 2023-24 state budget, an investment of $1.66 billion continued School Meals for All with an increased state meal reimbursement of nearly $1 per meal. The Center for Ecoliteracy relies on partnerships and input from school nutrition leaders to drive this advocacy. 

Previous policy successes include $192 million for California schools’ COVID-19 food response and $10 million for Farm to School programming in the 2020–21 state budget, supporting Farm to School innovators through the California-Grown Fresh School Meals Grant Program in the 2017–18 and 2018-19 state budgets, and a collaboration with the Oakland Unified School District in 2012 to secure $475 million from a local bond measure for school facilities — including a new Central Kitchen, Instructional Farm, and Education Center — with nearly 84% approval from Oakland voters. 

Our commitment to policy and advocacy has influenced national change. Other states have passed or introduced legislation to provide School Meals for All following California’s leadership. From 1999–2002, as a leader in The Food Systems Project, the Center for Ecoliteracy co-developed the nation’s first district-wide school wellness policy. This included the adoption of instructional gardens in every Berkeley elementary school, fresh produce in school cafeterias, and the commitment that no child would go hungry during the school day. This policy is credited with providing inspiration and proof-of-concept for the 2004 federal mandate requiring all districts participating in the National School Lunch Program to adopt wellness policies.

I am grateful for the Center for Ecoliteracy’s critical advocacy and leadership to make California the first state to enact free school meals for all students.
Senator Nancy Skinner