A bill to help ensure that no Minnesota children go hungry during school lunch was unanimously passed by the Minnesota House of Representatives on Thursday, March 13.
HF 2480, authored by Rep. Yvonne Selcer, D-Minnetonka/Eden Prairie, will fully fund hot school lunches for children whose families cannot afford reduced-price meals.
“This bill is the culmination of the work begun last session, and is supported by numerous faith-based and other organizations,” Selcer said. “This unanimous vote makes the bipartisan statement that no child shall go hungry in a Minnesota school because of an inability to pay.”
The bill calls for $3.5 million of Minnesota’s budget surplus to be used to ensure that all K-12 schools in the state can afford to have a school lunch policy that provides a hot lunch to students on the reduced-price lunch program. Selcer said she estimated that about 61,500 students would benefit from the bill.
The bill outlines that each school year, the state must pay participants in the national school lunch program the amount of 12.5 cents for each full paid and free student lunch and 52.5 cents for each reduced-price student lunch served to students starting in 2015.
The school lunch legislation now goes to the state Senate, where similar legislation has been referred to the Education Policy Committee.
Gov. Mark Dayton has also shown support for the bill. He released an announcement, back in February, proposing providing additional funding in the upcoming legislative session to ensure that every child has access to a nutritious lunch in Minnesota schools.
“No child in Minnesota should be denied a healthy lunch,” Dayton said. “We cannot expect our students to succeed on an empty stomach. I look forward to working with the Legislature to make this issue a priority in the upcoming legislative session, and fully fund the bill authored by Sen. Jeff Hayden and Rep. Yvonne Selcer.”
A report released in February by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid revealed that 46 Minnesota school districts have policies that deny students access to a nutritious lunch if those students do not have sufficient funds to pay for their meal. According to the survey, more than half of all Minnesota school districts provide low-income students alternative meals, such as a cold cheese sandwich, when they are unable to pay the 40 cents required for a reduced-price hot lunch.
Additionally, Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius reached out to all Minnesota school districts, urging them to take whatever actions necessary to ensure that all Minnesota children have access to a healthy, nutritious lunch.
“I urge all school districts to work with their Food Service Directors to find ways to ensure children are never turned away from receiving a hot meal,” Cassellius wrote in a statement. “As you know, for too many of our children, school meals may be the only nutritious meals they receive. We also know that children learn best when they have nutritious meals throughout their days.”
On March 10, the bipartisan Childhood Obesity Legislative Working Group, chaired by Rep. Kim Norton, D-Rochester, and Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, added Selcer’s school lunch bill to its list of legislative recommendations for 2014.
“I am very pleased that the bipartisan Childhood Obesity Working Group endorsed my bill to provide free lunch to those students who now qualify for reduced lunch,” Selcer said. “Children who skip lunch are more likely to overeat once they get home. Children who are hungry also cannot learn, and lower-income status is highly correlated to the achievement gap, which must be eliminated.”
“Under Governor Pawlenty’s administration, children who qualify for reduced lunch were made eligible for a free breakfast,” Selcer added. “Passage of my bill will guarantee that these same children will receive two nutritious meals each school day.”
Selcer will run for re-election
Selcer formally announced that she will be running for re-election in 2014 at the Senate District 48 DFL Convention on March 8. She is completing her first term.
“I believe that my reputation as an independent, pro-business voice in the legislature will continue to serve our community members well,” Selcer said, in explaining her decision to run.
Selcer was the chief author of a bill that required the state to pay back what was owed to schools as a result of borrowing by previous legislatures. She also co-authored the bill to fund all-day kindergarten. She said that work on education is a natural extension of her work as a teacher and eight years on the Hopkins School Board as a director, treasurer and chair.
In addition to her education-related work experience, Selcer spent years managing Minnesota businesses. Selcer, who is a member of the bipartisan House Small Business Caucus, lauded the passage of legislation in the House last week that cut taxes for the middle class and businesses by $500 million.
“I am proud of my accomplishments and look forward to continuing the positive, bipartisan work that was done for the residents of northern Eden Prairie and southern Minnetonka in my first term,” she said.
Selcer lives in Minnetonka with her husband of 27 years, Chuck, a CPA, and they are the parents of two children.
Contact Natalie Conrad at [email protected] or follow her @EPSunCurrent.