Expansion of free lunch program would benefit FF students, parentsPublished 10:49am Wednesday, February 13, 2013
About 128 Fergus Falls School District students would qualify for the free lunch program if a bill being heard in the house and senate is passed.
The bill, authored by Rep. Jerry Newton (DFL-37A), would allow students who are receiving reduced cost meals at 40 cents per meal to receive their lunches free. Several other House members have also signed on. A companion bill in the Senate will also be heard.
State advocates for low-income families say that 40 cents can still be too much to pay.
“There is a risk that these kids don’t have the money for lunch,” said Jessica Webster, a staff attorney with the Legal Services Advocacy Project.
Legal Aid surveyed about half of the school districts in the state to find out what schools do when students run out of money in their lunch accounts. The group found that in some lunch lines, such children can’t get a meal.
In Fergus Falls, 128 students of the 2,509 population — or 5 percent — would be eligible, according to District Business Manager Mark Masten, adding that the number of eligible students would likely be different next year, when the bill would take effect if passed.
“If the bill passes, schools would be reimbursed by the state,” he said. “The federal government has set the rate at 40 cents for students qualifying for reduced rates. It has been in effect for as long as I can remember.”
The school district is reimbursed about $8,800 for the reduced cost student lunches, Masten said.
Supporters of the bill say it would ensure that low-income students have the nutrition they need to learn in school and are not refused a lunch when they cannot pay.
But at a cost to the state of $4 million a year, the measure has sparked criticism that it relieves parents of responsibility. Statewide, 61,500 students some legislators want to add currently qualify for lunch at a reduced price.
Under a federal program, Minnesota provides free lunches to nearly 250,000 students a year.
This story includes information from MPR News — 91.5 FM.