Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has signed a law guaranteeing free breakfast and lunch for all students in the state, regardless of how much money their parents make. Tens of thousands of food-insecure kids will benefit. pic.twitter.com/500q4acTre
— More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) March 17, 2023
It's estimated that nearly 9 million American children live in homes where three meals a day are not guaranteed. Hunger can make it difficult to learn, and food insecurity is an important problem that several states are tackling. This includes Minnesota, where Governor Tim Walz was surrounded by kids who cheered as he signed a bill that guarantees free meals for every student in the state. The new universal free meal law means that Minnesota will join Colorado, California, and Maine in providing complimentary breakfast and lunch to all students regardless of income.
Now in his second term, Gov. Walz has pledged to put an end to child poverty in the state. Signing the bipartisan bill puts him one step closer to that goal. “It’s a historic, bipartisan win that means no kid will go hungry at school—and that Minnesota is one step closer to being the best state in the county [sic] to grow up,” he tweeted after signing the bill into law.
The law ensures that every student, K-12, in Minnesota will be provided with free breakfast and lunch. The change will go into effect in September, at the start of the next academic year. While most of Minnesota's schools receive federal funds from National School Lunch Program, it's not enough to cover the cost of a student's entire meal. The new law will make up the difference, and schools will no longer be able to charge students. All told, this will cost the state about $200 million per year.
Gov. Walz, who is a retired educator, has seen firsthand the impact that food insecurity has on students and their ability to learn. And for him, it was important to do something about it. While the bill was widely supported, there was some notable criticism. Republican state Sen. Steve Drazkowski angered many with his comments on the Senate floor that “hunger is a relative term.” He further argued, stating, “I have yet to meet a person in Minnesota that says they don’t have access to enough food to eat.”
As a former teacher, I know firsthand that kids can’t learn on an empty stomach. When universal school meals reaches my desk — a historic, bipartisan bill — I’ll be proud to sign it into law.
— Governor Tim Walz (@GovTimWalz) March 14, 2023
His comments, which came prior to the 38-26 vote that passed the measure, run contrary to data. In 2021, it was estimated that 10.8% of Minnesota's children lived in poverty. And in the county that Senator Drazkowski represents, 8.4% of children were living in poverty in 2021.
Luckily, his words fell on deaf ears and the bill passed. During the signing on Friday, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan put a face to childhood hunger by sharing her own emotional story as a way to rebut Drazkowski's claims.
“To our decision-makers who believe they have never met someone who is experiencing or has experienced hunger—Hi, my name is Peggy Flanagan, and I was one in six of those Minnesota children who experienced hunger.”
We just signed universal school meals into law.
As a kid who grew up with a different colored lunch ticket, I know firsthand that too many children go hungry at school and experience shame in the lunchroom.
Today, we’re saying never again in Minnesota.
— Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan (@LtGovFlanagan) March 17, 2023
For all involved in helping the bill pass, Friday was a joyous day.
“If you’re looking for good news, this was certainly the place to be,” said Gov. Walz. “I’m honored and I do think this is one piece of that puzzle in reducing both childhood poverty and hunger insecurity.”
Minnesota is now the fourth state in America to provide free meals to all its students, regardless of their family's income.
View this post on Instagram