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Testimony Of Tim Nicolette, Executive Director, Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, Joint Committee On Education H.603/S.261

Date Published: July 17, 2023

Author: Tim Nicolette

Dear Honorable Members of the Committee:

I am writing to you today on behalf of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association (MCPSA) to express our support for permanent Universal School Meals.

MCPSA is a membership organization representing charter public schools all across the Commonwealth. The 70 charter public schools in Massachusetts serve 46,000 students – 74% of whom identify as children of color, 69% of whom are children with high needs, and 57% of whom come from low-income households.

Children cannot learn if they are hungry. In order for our public schools to fulfill their missions of enabling every child to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally, we must first ensure that we are meeting children’s fundamental needs – including ensuring that all children have regular access to nutritious meals. Research has shown that participation in school meals improves attendance, academic performance, and social-emotional health. The benefits of free, nutritious school meals are clear. Feeding our children’s stomachs is a necessary and critical first step to allowing us to then feed their brains.

In 2019, 24% of food insecure children were ineligible to receive free or reduced price meals through our state’s school meal program. Through the traditional system, eligibility requires families to apply for free or reduced price meals. Both the process of completing the required paperwork and social stigma associated with visible acknowledgement of a family’s income status present significant barriers to participation in the free and reduced price meal program.

Last year, the Legislature wisely extended free school meals through the 2022-2023 school year when the federal government’s pandemic free meal program expired. As a result, in October 2022, as compared with October 2019, an additional 80,000 students ate lunch in schools not previously serving universal free meals. This investment by the Legislature made a meaningful and significant impact for children and families across the Commonwealth, reducing the barriers of paperwork and stigma and successfully increasing access to nutritious meals. On behalf of our schools and the families they serve, we thank you for this investment.

In contrast, states that returned to the traditional school meal system when the federal waivers ended have seen skyrocketing school meal debt that puts significant pressure on families and schools. Reducing or eliminating the Commonwealth’s investment in universal school meals would transfer potentially crippling costs to families and schools that are already struggling to meet a variety of needs with limited resources. Investment by the state to ensure this critical program can continue permanently will enable schools to invest their resources where they are intended and greatly needed – in programs that directly support the academic, social, and emotional growth of our students.

MCPSA and our member schools urge the Legislature to make School Meals for All permanent, ensuring every child in the Commonwealth has access to the nutritional foundation they need in order to thrive both in and out of our classrooms. Please pass bill H.603/S.261.

Thank you,

Tim Nicollette
Executive Director