School lunch bill passes House

Published 9:33 am Friday, March 14, 2014

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota House on Thursday voted unanimously to guarantee children don’t get denied a school lunch for lack of money.

The bill, which passed 130-0, gained traction amid reports that some districts either denied lunches to kids who couldn’t afford them or gave them a lesser meal than their peers. Under the bill, the state would spend $3.5 million a year to shore up the lunch program.

Rep. Yvonne Selcer, DFL-Minnetonka, said a strong vote on her bill should “make the statement that no child shall go hungry in a Minnesota school because of the inability to pay.”

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If it becomes law, she said, “no child shall go through any shame, worry or embarrassment as they make their way through the lunch line at school.”

Selcer said it would provide for up to 61,500 students.

Most subsidies for school lunches come from the federal government, but the state adds a small share. Children on reduced-price meal programs still have a gap of 40 cents between the subsidies and the typical hot lunch cost.

When their personal lunch accounts run dry, students in some districts have been denied a meal or were given an alternative, such as cold cheese sandwiches. Authors of a recent Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid study on school lunch practices said that aside from nutrition concerns there are worries about poor children being stigmatized over the lunch they get or don’t get.

Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, spotted possible gaps in the no-denial guarantee. He said children who aren’t part of a free- or reduced-lunch program could run into trouble if their personalized accounts are emptied. “They matter just as much as any student,” Quam said.

A similar bill is traveling through the Senate.

Gov. Mark Dayton is also on board, saying he was disappointed to learn that students were missing out on lunch because they couldn’t afford it.

“To embarrass students and to deny them lunch is just so un-Minnesotan and so antithetical to what we know is necessary with good nutrition for effective learning,” Dayton said Thursday in a conference call with reporters.