Colorado voters asked to fund school lunches with tax hike on high incomes
An estimated 60,000 Colorado kids ineligible for free and reduced lunch despite need
A measure placed on Colorado’s 2022 ballot by Democrats in the state Legislature will ask voters to approve an income tax hike on people earning more than $300,000 a year to fund free lunches in public schools.
Proposition FF would raise about $100 million annually by limiting the total amount that high-income filers can deduct from their state income taxes, and allocate the funding to a new free-meals program within the Colorado Department of Education.
The “Healthy School Meals for All” measure has been endorsed by more than 100 Colorado charitable organizations and advocacy groups.
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“The skyrocketing price of food has made it very difficult for families struggling in this economy to put healthy food on the table,” Christine Benero, president of Mile High United Way, said in a statement. “Prop FF helps families facing tough times by making sure all kids have access to a free meal at school, so kids don’t worry about going hungry.”
The top 5% of Colorado households currently earn more than $300,000 annually. For those households, Proposition FF would limit deductions on state income taxes to $12,000 for single filers and $16,000 for joint filers. The limits wouldn’t apply to federal taxes.
For a married couple making a total of $375,000 a year and claiming the standard $25,900 income-tax deduction, the measure would raise the amount of state income tax owed by about $450, according to a nonpartisan state fiscal analysis.
While a loose patchwork of programs currently subsidizes free and reduced-price school lunches for many Colorado students, an estimated 60,000 kids don’t meet eligibility requirements despite being in need. A temporary federal aid program during the COVID-19 pandemic provided universal free meals, but it has since expired.
“Proposition FF comes with a sustainable, long-term source of funding that permanently guarantees a 100% reimbursement rate for every Colorado school district to provide free school meals to every student who needs them,” the Yes on FF campaign says.
Proposition FF was referred to the ballot by the General Assembly through House Bill 22-1414 earlier this year. State Sens. Don Coram and Cleave Simpson and state Reps. Mary Bradfield and Janice Rich were the only Republicans to vote in favor of the bill. No Democrats were opposed.
An issue committee in support of the measure, Healthy School Meals for All Colorado Students, has raised over $1 million in campaign contributions, according to disclosures from the Colorado secretary of state’s office. About half that total was contributed by the statewide nonprofit Hunger Free Colorado, while the Arvada-based Community First Foundation and Gary Advocacy have also donated large sums.
While little organized opposition to Proposition FF exists, several conservative groups have expressed skepticism about the proposal. The Common Sense Institute, a right-leaning think tank funded by business interests, questioned whether the new free-meals program would be ”overfunded or underfunded depending on cost and revenue outcomes into the future.”
“Simply put, there is no such thing as a free lunch,” said CSI senior economist Steven Byers.
But supporters, including a long list of children’s health care and educational organizations, say the current system is letting too many hungry kids fall through the cracks.
“Our coalition is so excited to have the support of over 100 nonprofits and other organizations, all of which have come together so no child goes hungry because their family can’t afford a nutritious meal,” Hunger Free Colorado policy director Ashley Wheeland said in a statement. “This ballot measure will ensure every student in public schools can get a free meal every day so no kid goes hungry because they don’t have enough lunch money.”
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