DENVER (KDVR) — Coloradans have decided to give free school lunches to the state’s public school students in a program also designed to make sure the meals are healthy and locally sourced.
Proposition FF passed with 55.2% of the vote, according to the Associated Press. More than a million voters cast a ballot in favor of the statewide measure.
Prop FF limits state income tax deductions on people who make $300,000 or more to fund healthy, free school meals for students in public schools. Along with funding school meals, the money would fund grants to help schools buy food from Colorado farmers and ranchers to prepare nutritious meals. It would also fund wage increases for school food employees, like the frontline cafeteria workers who prepare and serve school meals.
The measure as designed would generate an estimated $100 million each year starting with the 2023-24 school year. It would also require schools to participate in federal programs that would increase their reimbursements.
Supporters of the measure say more than 60,000 schoolchildren in the state cannot afford school meals but do not qualify for free or reduced-price lunches because their family makes too much — that is, more than $42,606 for a family of three. They link hunger to negative impacts on academic performance and childhood development. They also point to the measure as a positive way to stimulate the local economy for Colorado’s farmers and ranchers.
Meanwhile, opponents had concerns about the funding source, arguing a reduced tax deduction for the state’s richest residents during a time of inflation could have a negative impact on economic investment and charitable giving.
Federal funding helped pay for free school meals for every public school student throughout the pandemic, but the program has since expired.
Making the free meals permanent was an idea that started at the state Capitol this year, and lawmakers passed a bill to do just that. But because of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which requires voters to approve any form of tax increase, it made its way to the ballot.