Georgia is among 22 states involved in a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As the students return to class, states are pushing back against federal guidelines that could revoke school lunch funding.

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service announced a new program in May to combat discrimination based on sex. New regulations require schools receiving federal nutrition funds investigate allegations of gender and sexuality-based discrimination or risk losing school lunch funding.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said he wants this update to bring about changes.

“USDA is committed to administering all its programs with equity and fairness, and serving those in need with the highest dignity,” Vilsack said. "A key step in advancing these principles is rooting out discrimination in any form."

The 22 mostly Republican-controlled states named in the lawsuit are Indiana, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.

Georgia School Nutrition Director Linette Dodson says federal funding supports most students' meals, not just those in the free lunch program.

“Reduced meals are funded federally, except for that 30 cents I mentioned that's typically charged for breakfast, 40 cents that's typically charged for lunch,” she said. "It helps keep the paid price at a lower level because the federal funding helps offset that cost.”

Historically, around 60% of students in Georgia qualified for free and reduced lunch. The numbers increased during the pandemic when eligibility expanded, but those waivers lapsed this summer.