September 22, 2023
Marianne Weant, North Carolina Alliance For Health Programs Manager
After months of negotiations, the NC General Assembly released the conference report for the budget on Wednesday afternoon. The budget includes three provisions relevant to the work of School Meals for All NC. Both the House and Senate passed the budget on Friday morning. The budget next heads to Governor Cooper’s desk. Governor Cooper has announced that he is going to allow the budget to become law without his signature.
Reduced-Price Lunch Copay
The budget permanently eliminates the reduced-priced lunch copay! All students who qualify for reduced-price meals will now permanently receive both breakfast and lunch at school at no cost to their families.
Community Eligibility Provision Pilot
The budget includes $500,000 in recurring funds beginning in the 2023-24 fiscal year and $6.3 million in recurring funds beginning in the 2024-25 fiscal year for a Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) pilot. The pilot will support schools and districts in participating in CEP, which allows participating schools to provide school meals at no cost to families. The funding is limited to schools that are not participating in CEP this fiscal year. The bill language directs the Department of Public Instruction to prioritize schools with an Identified Student Percentage above 55% and whose participation will maximize federal funding.
School Meal Debt
The budget also includes language that prohibits schools from withholding student records or keeping students from participating in graduation due to school meal debt.
Statement From The School Meals for All NC Leadership Team
The budget provisions, and especially the recurring funding to permanently eliminate the reduced-price lunch copay, are important incremental steps toward school meals for all in North Carolina.
During the time the North Carolina General Assembly worked on the budget, schools in nine states started the school year offering school meals to all students at no cost to their families. These children, families, and communities are reaping the many benefits of school meals for all: improved academic outcomes, better attendance, fewer disciplinary issues, reduced child hunger, and the elimination of meal debt and lunch shame and stigma. While the steps taken in this session are important, we know that school meals for all is still the right, fair, and dignified choice for our state.
We appreciate your hard work and dedication this year and look forward to continuing to work alongside you to make school meals for all a reality in North Carolina!