I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food to 1,506 schools and organisations, benefiting 230,000 children. The objective of the programme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good-quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them. The programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and educational achievement.
The programme provides funding towards food services for children in disadvantaged schools through two schemes, those being, the urban school meals scheme and the school meals local projects scheme. The urban school meals scheme for primary schools is operated and administered by local authorities and part financed by my Department. Some 311 schools were part financed in 2017, 307 in 2018, 305 in 2019, 301 in 2020 and 279 in 2021.
The school meals local projects scheme is financed by my Department. Some 1,463 schools and organisations received funding in 2017-18, 1,461 receiving funding in 2018-19, 1,466 received funding in 2019-20, 1,480 received funding in 2020-21 and 1,361 received funding to date for 2021-22. The total amount of funding made available for the scheme in 2017 was €47.5 million, €54 million in 2018, €57.6 million in 2019, €61.6 million in 2020 and €65.1 million in 2021. In 2022, €68.1 million is available.
I am committed to continuing the growth of the school meals programme, in particular the hot school meals element, and building further on the significant extension announced as part of budget 2022. In this regard, I have commissioned an evaluation of the school meals programme, to be undertaken in 2022, to inform future policy decisions on the scheme.