Free lunch bill advances in the House

Legislature searches for $3.5 million to expand the state's free lunch program.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.—If low-income children can't afford a nutritious, hot lunch, the state of Minnesota should pick up the tab, the House Education Finance Committee decided Thursday.

After reports that more than half the public school districts in Minnesota deny hot lunches to students who can't pay for them, the Legislature is rushing to find the $3.5 million it would take to expand the state's free lunch program to the thousands of low-income children enrolled in the reduced-price lunch program.

"This is a great opportunity to, in a bipartisan manner, make the statement that no child shall go hungry in Minnesota because of an inability to pay," said  Rep. Yvonne Selcer, DFL-Minnetonka, who sponsored legislation that would let the state cover the cost of expanding free lunches to the thousands of students in the reduced-price lunch program.

A searing report by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid last month found that a majority of school districts substitute cold sandwiches, or no lunch at all, when students run out of money in their lunch accounts. Some sent children home with hand stamps or stickers to alert parents that they had come up short. The districts noted  that they often continued to provide the lunches long after the money ran out, which led to large deficits in their own budgets.