Proposed Iowa bill to make school lunches free

Free school meals bill in Iowa

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(ABC 6 News) – A new bill proposed in the Iowa House of Representatives is pushing for the state to pick up the check when it comes to school meals.

HF 2368 comes with support on both sides of the political aisle.

Representatives Matthew Rinker (R-Burlington), the bill’s author, and Representative Sharon Steckman (D-Mason City), a member of the House Education Committee, both say this bill would address the needs of students and school districts.

“We’re literally talking about feeding kids, what could be more important than that?” said Steckman.

If passed, the Iowa Department of Education would use an estimated $3-5 million of its budget to cover meal costs in public schools and some accredited private institutions.

That would effectively erase deficits currently covered by the districts when families can’t afford school meals.

“The amount of money for lunch-account deficits grows by the day,” said Rinker.

According to supporters of the bill, not only could the districts benefit from the financial impacts. Some lawmakers say freeing up the cost of school lunches from families could result in healthier lifestyles overall.

“They can go to the store and buy healthy food. They have a little more money, they can buy healthier food than buying the cheap, high carbohydrate, high calorie foods that they buy with when you have very little money,” said Steckman.

Supporters of the bill say it goes beyond just dollars and cents.

“If kids come to school hungry, how are they gonna learn?” said Steckman.

According to a study from Brown University, free school meals improve test scores and reduce incidents of bad behavior.

“The overall tone of the conversation is kids that eat a lunch are more likely to be engaged, they’re going to absorb information better,” said Rinker.

Though there are some hurdles, Rinker believes they could get the bill across the finish line.

“I’ve heard from constituents, and I’ve heard from dietitians, and I’ve heard from school districts, and I’ve heard from fellow legislators that are absolutely in favor of this bill,” said Rinker.