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Universal free lunch ballot measure passes easily in Colorado

STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT - SEPTEMBER 08: A student prepares lunch in the cafeteria during the first day of school at Stamford High School on September 08, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many school districts nationwide delayed the first day of school until after the Labor Day weekend. Stamford Public Schools started the semester with a hybrid model, which includes in-class learning every other day. Many families, however, chose the distance learning option due to fears of COVID-19 transmission between students. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT - SEPTEMBER 08: A student prepares lunch in the cafeteria during the first day of school at Stamford High School on September 08, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many school districts nationwide delayed the first day of school until after the Labor Day weekend. Stamford Public Schools started the semester with a hybrid model, which includes in-class learning every other day. Many families, however, chose the distance learning option due to fears of COVID-19 transmission between students. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Colorado voters approved a ballot measure to provide free meals for all public school students, according to a call from The Associated Press.

By a comfortable 55 percent to 45 percent margin, they voted to create a program to provide those meals and help schools pay for them, according to election results.

The measure will help schools pay for the meals by raising $100 million a year by increasing taxes on the state's richest residents. Those making more than $300,000 a year will see their state tax deductions limited, increasing their taxable income.

The vote comes after the expiration of a federal program for universal free lunch started during the pandemic. That left states scrambling to restore funding.

Backers say nearly 70,000 Colorado kids can't afford school meals but do not qualify for free or reduced-price school meals either.

"I believe every kid should eat, no matter what income their parents have," said Maria Olvera, a voter and mother of a school-age daughter in Westminster, noting food is getting pretty expensive.

"No kid should be left behind," she said.

"This is a massive victory for hungry children," said Ashley Wheeland of Hunger Free Colorado.

The measure will also fund pay increases for frontline school cafeteria workers, helping deal with staff shortages and would incentivize schools to buy Colorado products.

There was no organized opposition to the measure. But critics said the program was unnecessary and too expensive. Some questioned whether free meals for all was needed, especially since low-income students will keep receiving free meals under current law.

More Election 2022 coverage

  • Colorado Election Results
  • More Election Coverage from Colorado Public Radio
  • Copyright 2022 CPR News. To see more, visit CPR News.