OLYMPIA – All K-12 students in Washington state would have access to free breakfast and lunch under proposed legislation introduced today by Sen. T’wina Nobles (D-Fircrest) and Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane). The Washington Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HB 1238/SB 5339) would require all schools to provide free breakfast and lunch, and would define school meals as part of basic education. That distinction means that the state would be constitutionally required to provide funding for meals.

“Access to nutritious food is a key component to the health and wellbeing of children,” said Riccelli. “Hungry kids can’t learn and by providing meals to any student who wants one, we’re taking an effective and meaningful step toward ensuring that children won’t go hungry in our schools.”

Under the bill, meals are provided to any student who requests one. This will end the stigma of “free lunch” that exists in public schools, leading to greater access to meals and eliminate the shame some students feel for utilizing the existing free-and-reduced price lunch program. All 1.1 million Washington students will have the same access to school meals, something that significantly reduced childhood hunger during the pandemic.

“Student success cannot be limited by a family’s ability to afford food. To advance student’s chances at success, we need to make investments, especially into their most basic needs,” said Nobles. “As a mom and a former educator, I know hunger can be a barrier to education, and students can’t learn when they’re hungry. This legislation will ensure that our students’ attention will be on their education and not on where their next meal is coming from.”

Legislators have been improving Washington’s school breakfast and lunch program over the last decade by passing Breakfast After the Bell in 2018 (HB 1508), requiring more schools to participate in the USDA Community Eligibility Program (CEP) in 2020 (HB 2660), and providing funding to more schools required to participate in CEP as recently as 2022 (HB 1878).