Members of the Jefferson County Education Support Professionals (JESPA) union bargaining team proposed on Tuesday that Jeffco Public Schools provide free, healthy meals to every Jeffco student. The proposal is based on feedback from parents, teachers, administrators, and food service workers, and is modeled after food service policies in surrounding school districts and Jeffco’s own Food and Nutrition Services Task Force report.
In addition, the proposal seeks to pressure the district, state, and federal governments to figure out a way to continue providing free meals. JESPA members often provide services out of their own pockets to children who are facing hunger and are seeing negative health consequences and a negative impact on learning.
“We must do better for our students and should strive to offer healthy food and remove the sugary and ultra-processed junk food off our menus,” said school kitchen manager and food service union president Zander Bednall. “As a food service worker, I care about the students I serve and I think it is important that our community has a voice. I’m here to cook, not to reheat packaged, processed junk.”
“As a food service worker, I care about the students I serve and I think it is important that our community has a voice.”
In addition to the bargaining proposal, JESPA announced support for Senate Bill (SB) 22-87, which would provide free meals to all students in those districts that participate. If passed, SB 22-87 would create a Healthy School Meals program supported through a combination of state and federal dollars, providing incentives for school districts to buy local, healthy foods, and to increase wages for frontline workers serving students. It would also demand oversight with the creation of parent and student advisory committees, and a biennial audit. The program would also allow for more scratch cooking by providing resources for equipment and training of staff.
JESPA supports Colorado’s creation of a Healthy School Meals for All Program because:
-It’s an investment in Pre K-12 public education. Children need healthy food to learn, and Healthy School Meals for All would ensure there is a program in place to meet the need.
-More students will get the food they need. What we have seen over the past 2 years is a substantial increase in the number of students eating breakfast and lunch at school! Schools that didn’t even have breakfast programs have added them due to popular demand.
-When schools have adequate reimbursements for all meals served, they can spend less money on administrative costs and spend funds on staffing, healthy meals, and scratch cooking.
-Too many children are left out of our current school meals programs. The free and reduced-price meals program income threshold is too low to truly account for children and families facing food insecurity. The maximum income for a family of 3 to qualify for reduced-price school meals is $40,626, while the average cost of living in Colorado is $70,000. Too many children are going without food as their families struggle to cover all their needs.
JESPA is urging elected leaders, community leaders, school districts, and every Coloradan to support this important bill that would help every child get the food they need to learn and thrive.
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