National School Lunch Program (NSLP)

School Milk Programs

Last Published: 05/23/2017

By Gordon W. Gunderson 

Fluid whole milk is an important component in an adequate diet, being one of the most important sources of calcium, and contributing substantially to the protein and vitamin A content of a meal. It is an important part of the Type A school lunch. In the 1965 survey on dietary levels of U.S. households, it was found that calcium and iron intakes were substantially below the recommended amounts in one fifth of the households. This was due principally to the low consumption of milk and milk products, vegetables, and fruits.

Federal assistance in providing milk for school children has been in operation since June 4, 1940, when a federally subsidized program was begun in Chicago. It was limited to 15 elementary schools with a total enrollment of 13,256 children. The schools selected were located in low-income areas of the city. The price to the children was 1 cent per one-half pint, and children who could not pay were given milk free, the cost being paid through donations by interested persons.

On October 14, 1940, a similar program was begun in New York. At first only 45 schools were involved, but as time went on additional schools were approved, and by the end of November, 123 schools were participating. As originally planned, the program was to have concluded at the end of the calendar year. The evident success of the programs in Chicago and New York brought about a continuation of the program in New York and the re-opening of the program in Chicago in January 1941. Schools in other cities became interested, and in April 1941, the program had been extended to Omaha, Nebraska; Ogden, Utah; Birmingham, Alabama; St. Louis, Missouri; and to Boston and the Lowell-Lawrence area, Massachusetts.

Under the plan of operation, dairies submitted bids to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Schools collected 1 cent per half pint from the children and paid it to the dairies. The difference between the 1-cent payment and the cost of the milk to the school was paid to the dairies by USDA, based on monthly invoices certified by the schools. In Chicago, this amounted to 0.893 cent per 1/2 pint; in New York, 1.37 cent; in Omaha, 0.995 cent; and in St. Louis, 0.837 cent.

In all but the Birmingham and Ogden schools, all children in the schools selected for participation were permitted to buy milk at 1 cent per half pint. In Birmingham and Ogden, the needy children in all schools of the city could buy the milk at 1 cent, and the schools were obligated to purchase milk for sale to the other children at prevailing prices, conducting the milk sales in such a way that the needy children receiving the 1-cent milk could not be identified by their peers. In Birmingham, the ticket system was used in much the same way as the system now employed in the school lunch program. Children who could not pay the 1-cent charge were supplied milk free and the cost was met through donations from charitable organizations. In Ogden, the payments by children were made directly to the teacher; no tickets were used.

The program continued to expand nationally through 1942-43, but in July 1943 ceased to operate as a separate program. In that year, Congress provided for cash reimbursement to schools for the operation of the school lunch program, and the milk program was made a part of the lunch program and was designated as a Type C lunch. In 1946, it was made a part of the National School Lunch Program and again designated as a Type C lunch. The increasing demands upon appropriated funds for payment of reimbursement for Type A lunches gradually reduced reimbursement for the Type C until most schools discontinued it. Funds available were then applied principally to the support of the Type A lunch.

As an incentive for again stimulating the consumption of milk among school children, the 83rd Congress authorized use of Commodity Credit Corporation funds for fiscal years 1954-55 and 1955-56 to reimburse schools of high school grade and under for milk served over and above the amounts they normally used.  62

Reimbursement was paid at the rate of 4 cents per half pint for all milk served to children in excess of the amount normally used. For schools which had not had a milk service prior to the 1954-56 school year, reimbursement was paid at the rate of 8 cents per half pint for all milk served to children. Schools were required to reduce the price of milk to children to the point where there would be no profit accruing. Reimbursement to the school was accomplished by means of a claim for reimbursement submitted at the end of each month. Checks were issued by the State agency from the allotment of Federal funds received. 63  In the following year, the 84th Congress extended the program for two more years, broadened eligibility to include child-care centers, settlement houses, nursery schools, summer camps, "and similar non-profit institutions devoted to the care and training of children.”  64

Regulations by USDA were amended concerning milk eligible for reimbursement and new rates were established. For schools serving a Type A lunch under the National School Lunch Program, a rate of 4 cents per one-half pint was set for all milk consumed by children in excess of the number of half pints served as a part of the Type A lunch (one 1/2 pint per lunch). For schools not participating in the National School Lunch Program, the rate was 3 cents per half pint for all milk served to children. Prices charged to children could not exceed the cost of the milk to the school, less the reimbursement from Federal funds. If the milk service required an expenditure of funds within a school, the price of milk to children could be increased by the "within-school distribution cost" but not to exceed 1 cent per half pint. In no event could the pricing policy be such as to yield a profit in the operation of the program. 

Non-profit institutions which did not provide milk for children as a separately-priced item were required to show an expansion of milk service over the previous year and rates of reimbursement were established accordingly.  65

With the inauguration of the Child Nutrition Act in 1966, the Special Milk Program was made a part of that Act.

Milk consumption in schools has increased nearly ten-fold over the past 23 years. In 1946-47 there were 228 million half pints of milk served as Type C lunches. In 1969-70 there were 2.7 billion half prints served in schools under the Special Milk Program of the Child Nutrition Act.


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62  P.L. 690, 83rd Congress, August. 28, 1954, 68 Stat. 900.
63  The Special School Milk Program -A Service Guide to States. AMS, USDA, July 1955.
64  P.L. 752, 84th Congress, July 20, 1956, 70 Stat. 596.
65  The Special Milk Program For Children -A Service Guide to States, AMS, USDA, November 1956.