Date of Graduation

Spring 5-21-2022

Document Access

Project/Capstone - Global access

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Urban and Public Affairs


College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Sarah Burgess

Second Advisor

David Donahue


In July 2021, California became the first state to pass a program which guarantees two meals a day to all K-12 students at no cost. This project examines California’s journey to pass this Universal School Meals Program (USMP) and explores how such a program can provide equity for students. I produce a legislative history which traces how school meals are funded and regulated at the federal level, California’s public education funding system, their state meal program, the policies which created changes that allowed the USMP to pass, and the legislation of the program itself. Framework presented by Tyack and Cuban allow for this process to be understood as one of education reform which worked to challenge systems and consider school meals a learning resource as necessary as a textbook or desk. To understand how this program may promote equity, semi-structured interviews were conducted with legislators and advocates involved in the passage of the USMP. Interviews demonstrated that this program was viewed as providing equity in the ways it approached the issue of hunger. Applying concepts of targeted universalism to these interviews allows for a definition of equity to be realized, emphasizing that promoting equity requires an understanding of systems and centering of groups which those systems oppress most. With the legislative history and targeted universalism framework, I present the USMP as an example of how policy can create programs which provide equity, opening a pathway for policy and programs of the future to follow suit.