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California Department of Education
News Release
California Department of Education
News Release
Release: #23-16
March 7, 2023
Contact: Communications
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Superintendent Thurmond, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, and First Partner Siebel Newsom Highlight California’s Efforts to Support Student Access to Healthy Meals and Innovative Farm-to-School Program

EL SOBRANTE—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond on Monday, March 6, 2023 joined U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) leadership, and state and federal stakeholders on a visit to Betty Reid Soskin Middle School to hear more about the district’s innovative farm-to-school program.

Soskin Middle School serves 450 students—60 percent of whom are considered to be socioeconomically disadvantaged—and is the frontline of the vital work of feeding students healthy school meals through the California Universal Meals Program. The school is named after Betty Reid Soskin, a pioneering Bay Area civil rights activist and the nation’s oldest National Park Ranger, who was designated as an Ambassador to California Education by Thurmond in September 2021.

“As we celebrate National Nutrition Month and National School Breakfast Week, I take great pride in promoting the fact that California became the first state in the United States to implement a statewide universal meals program for all school-age children within the public education system. As a result, millions of children access two free healthy meals during each school day. And not only that, but we have also supported other states in following suit,” Superintendent Thurmond said. “The Universal Meals Program removes the stigma associated with free and reduced-price school meals and is a critical component in the framework for the Transforming California Schools Initiative designed to create one cohesive educational system with integrated, interdependent strategies.”

Thurmond sponsored Universal Meals legislation as a key part of his Transforming School Initiatives and believes it is vital that we increase funding for farm-to-school programs that help support local purchasing and improve the quality and freshness of school meals. WCCUSD recognizes the critical relationship between a healthy student and academic achievement, as students must be healthy to be educated and be educated to be healthy. The district has growing partnerships with local, organic farms through support from Conscious Kitchen and grants from the USDA Student Ambassador program to make sure that changing menus respond to a youth voice.

Thurmond himself was once a student on free lunch, food stamps, and government supports and knows how vitally important these programs are to student health and learning. He has championed efforts to make sure students in California and across the country have access to healthy, nutritious school meals. Ensuring children have consistent access to meals that support their health and well-being is a key aspect of the Biden-Harris Administration National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health (PDF) External link opens in new window or tab., which includes a commitment to end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases and health disparities by 2030. It is also important that we increase funding for farm-to-school programs that help support local purchasing and improve the quality and freshness of school meals. Expanding this program could boost the purchasing power of schools, support local economics, and ensure the availability of fresh foods for our students.

Last July, California became the first state in the nation to implement a Universal Meals Program in which all children are eligible to receive a free breakfast and lunch regardless of their individual eligibility. Under the Universal Meals Program, public schools, county offices of education, and charter schools can offer breakfast and lunch to all students during school days, including summer school. For more information about the California Universal Meals Program, visit the CDE Universal Meals web page.

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Tony Thurmond — State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5602, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100

Last Reviewed: Friday, March 10, 2023
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