The Lead

In Allegheny Co., Shapiro admin celebrates free breakfast funding for public school students

By: - August 8, 2023 4:47 pm

Governor Shapiro Signs Ceremonial Budget Bill Creating Universal Free Breakfast, Making Historic Investments in Public Education During Visit to Allegheny County Elementary School on August 8, 2023 (Commonwealth Media Services photo).

Gov. Josh Shapiro, lawmakers and educators gathered at Penn Hills Elementary School in Allegheny County on Tuesday to commemorate the signing of the 2023-24 fiscal year budget, which allocates funds for universal free breakfast at public schools across the Commonwealth.

“Students can’t learn on an empty stomach,” Shapiro said. “That is why in my budget address just about three or four months ago, I called for universal free breakfast for every one of Pennsylvania’s school children.”

The 2023-24 budget, which is only partially finished, includes $46.5 million to provide universal free breakfast to Pennsylvania’s 1.7 million public school students, according to the Shapiro administration. 

Shapiro said the universal free breakfast program for all public school students fulfills a budget promise he made earlier this year. 

“In my first budget, just about six months into my term, we delivered on that promise to our children. We got it done and I’m here today to sign in the law,” Shapiro said. “That means that all 1.8 million Pennsylvania schoolchildren are going to have the opportunity to show up at school and get free breakfast.”

Shapiro also noted that a statewide universal breakfast program will help reduce the stigma felt by children who currently receive free- or reduced-cost school meals by putting “every kid on the same playing field.”

“I’ve also heard a lot from students in particular, about the stigma associated with the hunger that they bring to school every day,” Shapiro said. “No matter how tight money might be at home. Kids can start the day with a full belly and the ability to focus and importantly, they won’t be divided up from their friends. When they have to go get their meal. They won’t have to deal with the stigma associated with free meals.”

So far this year, six states have adopted a variation of programs to provide students with free universal school meals, including Minnesota, New Mexico, Maine, California, Colorado and Vermont.

More states line up to serve free school meals to all kids

Another 20 states, including Pennsylvania, are in the process of planning, drafting, or considering legislative efforts to expand free school meal programs, according to the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center.

In Allegheny County, more than 146,000 public school students will be eligible for free breakfast starting on the first day of school this year.

The administration provided a breakdown of the number of students eligible for free breakfast in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties based on 2022 school enrollment data.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.