In June, Illinois Governor Pritzker signed House Bill 4813 into law. Prior to this bill, school districts in the state that participated in the National School Lunch Program (a federal program that reimburses school districts that are serving free and reduced lunches to qualifying students) were required to enter into food service contracts with the lowest bidders. This put significant limitations on food quality, locally sourced ingredients, culturally relevant options, taste, and sustainability practices. Now, school food providers that participate in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) child nutrition programs are exempt from these contract bidding requirements.
At Pilot Light, we support the passage of HB 4813 and the possibilities it brings students across the state of Illinois. Many schools serving low-income students and students of color are participants in the National School Lunch Program, making this not only an issue of food procurement but an equity issue. Now, all school districts can consider a variety of factors when choosing a food service provider that best meets the needs of their students and community instead of automatically going with the lowest bid. This change has the potential to connect folks to more local food sources that support the local economy, reduce climate impact and provide better, healthier options for students.
With the increasing challenges that school food providers need to address, especially pandemic-related and supply chain challenges, we are excited about the possibilities that this bill will have for all of our partners in agriculture, school food, and classrooms. Pilot Light believes in integrating food education with real-life, experiential learning so students can connect with their own identity, their communities, and their world while advocating for a more equitable food future. Our Food Education Standards provide a blueprint for holistic, effective food education, in lessons like this one. We are eager to lend our support and expertise as school food providers and districts navigate this shift.