Election 2023: Lunch in schools initiative likely to become permanent part of education system

The temporary lunch in schools initiative is looking like it'll get an upgrade from a trial to a permanent part of our education system.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins faced pressure about it during a visit to a primary school on Tuesday, and even though it was his birthday, he was the one handing out policy gifts - or at least hinting about it.   

A cake, a chorus, and lots of kids. It was a campaign birthday for Hipkins, and as he blew out a candle and made a wish, it's likely he wished to win the election. But Arakura Primary School, where he was visiting, has its own wish list.  

The school even wrote it down in his birthday card, revealing one of those wishes in the school kitchen.  

"Please invest in the lunches programme, because 12 months is not a good enough commitment," said Arakura Primary School principal Seletute Mila.  

That commitment was made in May's Budget, but it runs out in December next year.  

"That's something that really worries me. I'd like to see the Government really committed to offering the school lunches programme permanently," Mila said.  

If they don't, an impossible decision is on the cards.  

"It would come down to a choice of supporting the learning in the classroom or feeding our tamariki, and that's just not a good option for me," Mila said.  

After making her case to the Labour leader, saying it's brought the community together "really well", Hipkins then gave this hint.  

"As part of the election campaign, which is just getting underway, we will be making decisions about the longevity of that programme," he said.   

"I am not announcing anything on that today," he added, when asked if there was something on the way.

The scheme costs around $160 million per year to provide lunches to a quarter of all school kids, around 230,000 of them in nearly 1000 schools.    

"They're also learning important skills like how to be whānau, and clear the table, and do the dishes, and vacuum the floor," Mila said.  

"We did want to identify the best way of delivering food in schools," Hipkins said.   

"I think he pilot we've had has now given us the opportunity to do that and we've got a good foundation for making decisions about the programme." 

It's essentially a yes from Labour - they'll announce it in the coming weeks - what about National?   

"We are supporters of the programme and it will continue to improve each and every year under a National Government," National Party leader Christopher Luxon said. 

So that's a yes from both major parties.