California Law Requiring Charters to Serve Free and Reduced Price Meals Vetoed

Last Updated: October 29, 2012

This article appeared in the October 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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Widely-supported legislation that would have required charter schools in the Golden State to provide free and reduced prices lunches to students has been vetoed by California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown stated that while he believes “pupil nutrition is profoundly important,” he feels it is trumped by the need of charter schools to “be free from large portions of the voluminous state Education Code.”

In California, as in many states, charter schools are exempt from many portions of state education law, including the one that says public schools “need to provide each needy pupil one nutritionally adequate free or reduced-price meal during each school day.”

The legislation was supported by a diverse coalition, including food banks, teachers unions, the California School Boards Association, and the California School Employees Associations.

Although eligible, many charter schools in California do not participate in federal meal programs, citing facility limitations and other financial constraints. The Charter School Association in the state has said its opposition to the bill was largely due to financial concerns. Some charters — and some public schools  offer meals through alternative arrangements, including catering services. However, a lack of data collection by any state agency means that there is no state level information on the extent of alternative meal programs, their nutritional standards, or the availability of free and reduced price options in charter schools.

Nationally, charter schools enroll lower percentages of children living in poverty on average than traditional public schools. In California, however, charters and traditional schools enroll similar percentages of students who qualify for free or reduced school meals, 56% and 57%, respectively.

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Read more from the October 2012 Rural Policy Matters.