Minnesota new free school meals program to provide meals to students this school year

(ABC 6 News) – With the new school year only a few weeks away, state officials and educators are pointing to Minnesota’s new Free School Meals for Kids Program as something students, families and teachers can look forward to this fall.

The new program was signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz in March. It provides state reimbursement to schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, so students can have one breakfast and one lunch at no cost at school.

RELATED: Governor Walz signs bill for free universal school meals

“Providing free breakfast and lunch at school is one of the best investments we can make in our students to support Minnesota’s working families, and care for our young learners and the future of our state,” said Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Willie Jett. “This program helps make Minnesota the best state for kids to grow up, and I am grateful to Governor Walz and legislators and advocates for making it happen.”

The Minnesota Department of Education said they encourage every public school district, charter school and non-public school to submit an application to participate in the program with the goal of having every student receive free school meals.

Educators say children who aren’t hungry during the school day are more attentive and learn better than those who haven’t had enough to eat.

“Kids come to school with a lot on their minds, and for many, that worry includes where their next meal will come from,” says Staci Murphy, a fourth-grade teacher at Hoover Elementary School in North Mankato. “Providing young people with healthy meals reduces student stress, improves their focus, and makes them better learners.”

Those in support of the program say taking away income requirements for the free meals would help fight student hunger.

“All families will benefit from this program,” said Rep. Sydney Jordan (DFL – Minneapolis). “Members, this is a bill that would cut costs at a time when food costs are rising.”

Opponents of the program are concerned about its cost.

“Families are suffering, we do need to feed our children, but we have to do this in a reasonable, fiscally responsible way,” said Rep. Krista Knudsen, (R-Lake Shore).

The Minnesota House passed the bill in February, 70-58. The Minnesota Senate approved the bill in March, 38-26.

The Free School Meals for Kids Program went into effect on July 1. To learn more, CLICK HERE.