More than three in five Washington voters support investing $100 million in revenue per year to enable all students to have a healthy breakfast and lunch and school without fees, regardless of family income status, the Northwest Progressive Institute’s most recent statewide survey has found.
64% of 874 likely 2024 voters interviewed March 7th and 8th by Public Policy Polling for NPI said they strongly or somewhat supported universal no-cost school meals, while a total of 33% said they were strongly or somewhat opposed.
Only 4% said they were not sure.
State Representative Marcus Riccelli (D‑3rd District: Spokane) proposed legislation early this session at the request of State Representative Chris Reykdal to provide for universal, no-cost school meals, but the bill was amended and scaled back after legislators found out it would cost $100 million per year to implement.
The operating budget proposal unveiled by House Democrats today would allocate $85 million to no-cost school meals, which isn’t enough to provide no-cost school meals to all pupils. Our research shows that a huge majority of voters want the full $100 million per year appropriated to ensure no kid goes hungry at school.
Other Democratic-run states have done this.
Surrounded by school children, teachers, advocates and public officials, Gov. Tim Walz signed a bill into law Friday to provide breakfasts and lunches at no charge to students at participating schools. It makes Minnesota the fourth state in the country to do so.
During the signing ceremony, Walz told Minnesota parents this will ease some of the stress on them.
“If you’re looking for good news, this was certainly the place to be,” said Walz. “I’m honored and I do think this is one piece of that puzzle in reducing both childhood poverty and hunger insecurity.”
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan was also at the ceremony. She said this was the most important thing she’d ever worked on.
A bill that would bring back free school lunches for students passed unanimously in both the state House and Senate, and now heads to Governor Ned Lamont’s desk for a signature.
The funding for free school lunches is part of a bigger bill [No. 6671] to allocate funds to numerous state programs for the remaining half of the fiscal year, ending June 30, 2023.
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected today to sign into law Senate Bill 4, which would expand free meals to all public and charter school students in New Mexico.
It would also allow sovereign nations and private schools within the state to opt in to offer free, high quality meals regardless of income.
As of Monday, the free school meals bill was set to become the 25th proposal to get the governor’s go-ahead.
Lawmakers passed more than 200 bills during the 2023 regular session, which ended earlier this month.
House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D‑Tacoma, said last week that the universal program was likely to be a victim of budgetary constraints.
“They’re going to have to pare that down because I don’t think this is a year that we can afford to probably go the whole way on that,” Jinkins said. “How do we make progress on it even if we’re not able to go the whole way? And that’s going to be, well, it’s highly disappointing to me and lots of people.”
Our research is clear: Voters want the Legislature to figure out how to “go the whole way on that” this year. It’s important. As the food and nutrition director for the Edmonds School District, Megan de Vries, told The Seattle Times: “What we see is, because of the stigma around that one-third of students who need access to meals, they would rather hang out with the two-thirds that do not require school meals… So we are seeing kids skipping out on school meals.”
Here’s the question we asked and the answers we received:
QUESTION: The Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction has proposed that school meals be provided at no charge to all Washington students as part of their basic education. During the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, waivers from the federal government allowed all students to eat free of charge, but those waivers have now expired, which means 330,000 Washington students and their families must pay for school meals again. The cost to taxpayers to provide meals at no charge to every student is estimated to be nearly $100 million per year. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose universal K‑12 meals, enabling all students to have a healthy breakfast and lunch at school without fees, regardless of family income status?
- Support: 64%
- Strongly support: 42%
- Somewhat support: 22%
- Oppose: 33%
- Somewhat oppose: 12%
- Strongly oppose: 21%
- Not sure: 4%
Our survey of 874 likely 2024 Washington State voters was in the field from Tuesday, March 7th through Wednesday, March 8th, 2023.
The poll utilizes a blended methodology, with automated phone calls to landlines (50%) and online answers from cell phone only respondents (50%).
It was conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Northwest Progressive Institute, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.3% at the 95% confidence interval.
Voters of different ideological orientations are in favor. More than eight in ten (81%) Democratic voters in Washington support universal school meals, along with 57% of independents. Republican voters are split: 45% of them favor investing $100 million to fund universal school meals while 52% are opposed.
All age groups are supportive. The youngest voters — on whose shoulders the fate of our republic ultimately rests — are the most enthusiastic, with 78% supportive (58% strongly supportive). Voters ages thirty to forty-five, the age group who are most likely to have young children, are supportive by a 2:1 margin, with 67% supportive (51% strongly supportive). 65% of voters ages forty-six to sixty-five are supportive as well. 57% of the oldest voters (65+) are supportive.
All regions of the state are supportive, too. Urban, suburban, and rural voters all agree this is a good idea. Here are the numbers by region:
- King County
- Support: 75% overall
- Oppose: 20% overall
- Not sure: 6%
- North Puget Sound
- Support: 64% overall
- Oppose: 34% overall
- Not sure: 2%
- South Sound
- Support: 60% overall
- Oppose: 36% overall
- Not sure: 4%
- Olympic Peninsula / Southwest Washington
- Support: 59% overall
- Oppose: 38% overall
- Not sure: 3%
- Eastern and Central Washington
- Support: 56% overall
- Oppose: 41% overall
- Not sure: 3%
Washington is a wealthy state and unquestionably has the resources to provide no-cost school meals to every child. If legislators don’t want to fund this priority with sales tax revenue or property tax revenue, they can pass a wealth tax — which our research shows two-thirds of voters support — and include universal school meals as one of the services to eventually be funded with that revenue.
As our question explained, we already provided no-cost school meals to all kids and families during an earlier stretch of the pandemic. We must make that permanent. Kids struggle to learn when they’re hungry. Getting rid of meal fees will make it easier for schools to serve nutritious breakfasts and lunches to their entire student populations. It’s the right thing to do and we should get it done this year.