Vegan Charter School Denied Access to Federal Lunch Program for Refusing to Serve Dairy 

Florida-based King Charter School hopes to become the nation’s first public school serving a 100-percent vegan menu and corresponding curriculum, but one stumbling block has been eligibility for meal reimbursements under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. Federal regulations stipulate that program participants “cannot discriminate against the drinking of cow’s milk before school, after school, on school grounds, or at any school-sponsored event.” This means the school may not be able to receive federal meal reimbursements unless it makes dairy milk available to students. “We know how harmful it is for kids to be drinking milk and even the American Medical Association put out a memo in September telling the USDA to change guidelines for 2020 due to the high levels of lactose intolerance in African Americans and Asians,” King Charter founder Maria Solanki told VegNews. “The worst part is that they refer to plant-based milk as beverages and make the nutrition requirements so hard for a plant-based beverage to actually get coverage. Since plant-based milk is not subsidized like cow’s milk, it is more expensive.” Solanki is currently allowed to serve a fully vegan menu at the school but has been working with a legal team to get the cow’s milk requirement changed by the USDA and raising funds through a GoFundMe campaign to avoid needing the federal reimbursement. “The school is not required to take the reimbursement, but by denying it, we take the risk of falling into debt,” Solanki said. “Starting our own school, no matter how small we start, is the first step to creating the change we want and making it happen faster than waiting for the school board to make changes in their food and curriculum.”