Gov. Josh Shapiro traveled to Allegheny County on Tuesday to promote his budget’s education increases. Funding for universal school breakfasts doubled and basic education funding saw its largest increase ever.
All 1.7 million public school students across Pennsylvania will continue to have access to free breakfasts under Gov. Josh Shapiro’s first state budget.
The budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes a $46.5 million increase for a universal free breakfast program that will provide breakfast to all public school students, regardless of their family’s income. The funding will also provide free lunches to 22,000 students who are eligible for reduced-price lunches through the National School Lunch Program.
“How can we expect kids to learn math and science and English when they come to school on an empty stomach? We can’t,” Shapiro said at a bill signing ceremony at Penn Hills Elementary School in Allegheny County on Tuesday. “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.”
As Philly Voice reported, Pennsylvania students were able to receive free meals throughout the pandemic from the US Department of Agriculture, but that program expired in 2022. But the universal breakfast program returned to Pennsylvania for the 2022-2023 school year after former Gov. Tom Wolf secured $21.5 million in leftover funds from the previous budget.
A report conducted by Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children highlights the benefits of universal free breakfast programs for public school children. The report states that free school breakfasts increase access to nutritious meals and improve academic performance, concentration, memory, comprehension and learning while reducing hunger-related behavioral problems.
Free breakfasts also reduce the stigma associated with students who access free or reduced meals compared to their peers.
Other benefits of having school breakfast programs for school children include improved academic performance, reduced behavioral problems and improved diets in children.
While visiting Penn Hills Elementary School, Shapiro also touted the increases in education spending for the upcoming school year.
The budget includes a $567 million increase in basic education funding, which is the largest funding increase in the state’s history. It also includes a $50 million increase for special education funding and a $23.5 million investment in workforce training and vocational tech programs that’ll allow students to learn different vocational skills.
“For the student in an underfunded school, this means getting the basic resources they need for a world-class education. For the student living with different abilities, this means access to an equitable education that breaks down barriers. And for the public school student who comes to school with an empty stomach, this means a free breakfast — no matter what their family’s income. This budget is a historic investment in Pennsylvania schools,” said Department of Education Secretary Khalid Mumin.
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