Minnesota Senate passes universal free school meal bill

(ABC 6 News) – The Minnesota Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that would guarantee breakfast and lunch for students across the state, regardless of family income.

The bill passed 38-26. The Minnesota House passed the bill last month, 70-58.

RELATED: Universal school meal bill passes Minnesota House

Governor Walz expressed support for the bill on Twitter saying that he is ready to sign it into law. “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.”

The bill’s author says one in six students are learning on an empty stomach, and this bill aims to end that.

“Today is a tremendous victory for students, families, and schools across the state,” Sen. Heather Gustafson (DFL-Vadnais Heights), the bill’s primary author, said. “I’ve been a teacher for over a decade, and I can tell you, firsthand, that when kids come to school hungry, learning becomes almost impossible. Now that school lunch and breakfast will be available to all K-12 students, regardless of household income, we are eliminating a significant barrier to accessing an equitable and world class education that every child in Minnesota deserves.”

The proposal applies to schools taking part in the federal school lunch program.

When it becomes law, the state would pay schools the difference between the cost of a school meal and the reimbursement they receive from that federal program — costing the state about $388 million over fiscal years 2024 to 2025.

Those in support of the bill 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 are concerned about the cost of the program.

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 bill heads to Gov. Walz’ desk to be signed into law.