Minnesota lawmakers consider more funding for universal free meals

Also in this week's K-12 legislative update: Tennessee companion bills would allow schools in the state to serve whole milk again and Delaware lawmakers advance bills addressing lunch shaming and universal free meals.
Students carrying lunch trays
The Minnesota House Education Finance Committee approved a bill that would update the amount of funding for the state's universal free meals program. | Photo: Shutterstock

It was a busy week at the state level for school nutrition legislation. Universal free meals were on the mind of lawmakers in Minnesota and Delaware, and in Tennessee, lawmakers discussed companion bills that would allow schools in the state to serve whole milk again.

Here’s the latest in school nutrition legislation.

Minnesota lawmakers address universal free meals funding

Universal free school meals are popular in Minnesota.  

The state enacted its universal free program at the start of this school year. According to recent state data, over 1 million additional school lunches and breakfast were served each month this past fall compared to fall 2022. More kids eating meals, however, means an increase in cost.  

In response to the program’s popularity, the Minnesota House Education Finance Committee recently approved a bill that would update the amount of funding for the program to match the updated February 2024 budget forecast.

 The bill is now in the House Ways & Means Committee. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate.

Schools in other states that have introduced universal free meals have also seen meal participation numbers increase, and a recent survey of school nutrition directors by the School Nutrition Association revealed that 87.4% of respondents reported an increase in school meal participation after adopting free meal service.

Whole milk could be coming to Tennessee schools

Tennessee lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow schools in the state to serve chocolate and plain whole milk.

HB 2480 and companion bill SB 1914 would allow whole milk to be offered during the school day, but the beverage would have to be served using milk dispensers and not in cartons.

Current federal regulations require schools to serve only low-fat or fat-free milk that can be flavored, however, HB 2480 sponsor Rep. Mark Cochran says that milk served in dispensers is omitted from this rule since the Federal regulations only apply to food served on school lunch trays.

“What this would allow, and some schools already have these, they actually have milk dispensers, and so, students can come by and get that milk at any time,” Cochran told the Tennessee House K-12 Subcommitee last week. “It's separate from your lunch service, but it's always available.”

The House version of the bill is currently in the House Administration Committee after passing out of the K-12 Subcommittee last week. The Senate version of the bill recently passed the Senate Calendar Committee.

Milk options in schools have been in the legislative limelight recently. In December, the U.S. House passed the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2023 which would also allow whole milk again in schools. The bill was blocked in the Senate, however, after Sen. Roger Marshall’s (R-Kan.) request to have the bill pass by unanimous consent failed.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is also currently deciding whether to further limit flavored milk in schools by offering it to only students in grades 9-12.

Delaware bills addressing lunch shaming and universal free meals advance

Two Delaware House bills pertaining to school nutrition have advanced in recent days.

The first,  HB 263, which would ban schools in the state from preventing students who are behind on school meal payments from participating in school-sponsored activities, passed out of the House and has moved to the Senate Education Committee.

The second, HB 125, which would set up a universal free school meals program in the state, passed out of the House Education Committee. It is now headed to the House Appropriations Committee.

See which states currently offer universal free meals via the map below:



More from our partners