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School meals are now free for all Spokane Public Schools students

The Lewis and Clark High School Cafeteria. This school year meals will be free for all students at Spokane Public Schools.
Rebecca White | SPR
The Lewis and Clark High School Cafeteria. This school year meals will be free for all students at Spokane Public Schools.

Breakfast and lunch are now free for all public-school students in Spokane. If the city’s state representative has his way, school meals will be free for all Washington students.

About 44% of Washington public school students go to a school where – thanks to a new state law – they can get free meals when school goes back into session this fall.

That includes Spokane’s school district. Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Adam Swinyard said the meal program’s expansion comes as more families will likely need it.

“We anticipate in the fall as inflation has impacted our family’s pocketbooks when we go to the grocery store that we'll definitely see a continued reliance, and a greater reliance on the opportunity for kids to receive meals at schools,” he said.

Swinyard said the district already piloted expanded meals during the pandemic, and saw positive results.

“Certainly, during the pandemic when a broader range of students had access to those consistent meals, there was definitely an impact on student’s ability to be the best versions of themselves,” he said.

He said instead of parents filling out paperwork to apply for free and reduced lunch, the district is considering launching a survey when families sign up for classes to make the process easier.

Spokane Representative Marcus Riccelli, who sponsored the expansion bill, said he’s in early conversations the Office of Public Instruction to launch a joint proposal to expand food access further.

“Next stop, universal free meals in Washington State,” he said, “I'll be working on that legislation and we're going to take this completely off the table so it’s not 44% of our kids in Washington State, it's 100%.”

He says several other Eastern Washington Schools have applied and may also soon be rolling out free meals for students, such as East Valley School District in Spokane Valley, Deer Park, Colville, Wellpinit and Chewelah.

Riccelli said he hopes removing barriers to meals will remove stigma around free lunch, and help children focus on learning.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.