Minnesota Governor Walz Expected To Push Free School Lunch Plan With Surplus Funds
Minnesota's top administrator is expected to make a push to use some of the projected surplus budget funds to make a significant investment in the lives - and education - of school age children in the state.
A number of news sources are reporting that Governor Tim Walz is expected to make the push to use some of the projected $17.6 billion in surplus to "permanently reinstate the pandemic-era expansion of no-cost breakfast and lunch for kids". The move would seek to shore up the relationship between nutrition and health with educational sucess. It would also aim to reduce the disparity between families of need with those that aren't.
A similar push occured in the state legislature was floated during the last session. That bill didn't advance primarily due to cost concerns.
Access to free or reduced-cost lunches is an issue for many families. And education experts predict that the need is greater than those who currently qualify. While "[a]n estimated 274,886 students in Minnesota - roughly a third of the public school population - are eligible for free or reduced-price meals" - according to resource data shared by the Minnesota Department of Education. At the same time, it's reported that "one in four Minnesota children experiencing food insecurity live in homes that don't qualify for the federal free or reduced-cost lunch program".
Making lunches free across the board - for everyone - levels the inequities.
But it also poses its own sets of problems.
In addition to free or reduced-cost lunches, the application forms that families use to apply for that program is also used in a number of other ways. The same data also opens the door for other programs that lower-income families depend upon. And, that concerns educators like Scott Croonquist, the Executive Director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. Croonquist offers that "when lunch was free for all, parents had little incentive to fill out the paperwork. That resulted in a 'pretty significant drop' in form submissions".
The problem creates a "whack-a-mole" situation where you fix one problem only to create others.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz is expected to release his budget proposal (including plans for the budget surplus) on January 24.