Meals for Students Necessary for Academic Achievement: Commentary

OKLAHOMA CITY – The conversation about free and reduced-cost breakfast and lunch availability for students is happening at the Oklahoma State Capitol this session.

Three lawmakers have filed legislation to either increase the qualifying income for students to receive these meals, or eliminate the qualifier percentage outright, a much-needed boost for families facing inflation and increased grocery prices.

Representative Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa, has House Bill 1376, which would increase the threshold to qualify; Representative Annie Menz, D-Norman, has House Bill 2727, which would eliminate the income requirement entirely; and, Representative John Waldron, D-Tulsa, has House Bill 1885, which also would eliminate the cut-off.

None of these bills would increase federal funds coming to the state but will use state appropriated dollars to supplement the added meals for those students who live in poverty but are not so poor as to qualify under the stringent federal guidelines.

Representative Boatman’s bill passed unanimously out of a House committee; as such, we expect this will be the legislation that might address the topic.

According to a 2019 investigation by Insider, Oklahoma ranked fourth in the nation for states whose students qualified for assistance under these programs. That breaks down to 659,376 total students, with 398,917 eligible to receive these meals, or more than 60 percent qualifying for aid. Unfortunately, not all who qualify are receiving the assistance.

The National School Lunch Act, passed in 1946, established school lunch programs across the nation. The purpose of the program was to safeguard the health and well-being of the nation’s children and to encourage the consumption of agricultural abundance.

Established by federal legislation in 1966, the School Breakfast Program received permanent authorization in 1975.

The purposes of this program are to make breakfast available in schools for students who, for whatever reason, come to school without an adequate breakfast.

Students whose families earn at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line can receive a free lunch. Between 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty line can receive a reduced-price lunch. Above 185 percent of the federal poverty line can receive a low-cost, full-price lunch.

Each year the United States Department of Agriculture issues “Income Eligibility Guidelines” used to determine student eligibility for free or reduced-price meals and free milk. You can go to to see what the current incomes levels for eligibility are

Another program, the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), is an alternative to household applications for free and reduced-price meals in local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools in high-poverty areas.

This program eliminates significant paperwork for the school, thereby saving administrative costs, therefore balancing the extra cost of meals.

Unfortunately, not all Oklahoma school districts that qualify will seek this support for their students. You can go to to see if your school district qualifies.

If they do but have not enacted this program, please reach out to the local school board to encourage them to do so.

As all these programs are available but underutilized currently, this concept is timely for lawmakers to look at ways to increase access to meals for students. We applaud these three for addressing the importance of free and reduced-price lunches for students. Studies tell us students learn better when they have had a healthy and nutritious meal.

We at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy encourage lawmakers to support increased meal availability for Oklahoma students.

Note: The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) is celebrating its 40th Anniversary in 2023. According to OICA’s promotional materials, “The organization was established in 1983 by a group of citizens seeking to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk.” OICA’s mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.”