Gov. Walz signs bill for universal free school meals

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed a bill on Friday afternoon approving free, universal school meals.

“I know that providing free breakfast and lunch for our students is one of the best investments we can make to lower costs, support Minnesota’s working families, and care for our young learners and the future of our state,” said Gov. Walz. “This bill puts us one step closer to making Minnesota the best state for kids to grow up, and I am grateful to all of the legislators and advocates for making it happen.”

The governor signed the bill at Webster Elementary in Minneapolis.

This comes after Minnesota State Senators approved the bill for free school meals on Tuesday. The Minnesota House passed the companion bill last month.

The bill’s author says that 1 in 6 children is learning on an empty stomach. The proposal applies to schools that participate in federal school lunch funding.

Advocates for the bill say free school meals for all would help students fight hunger.

“It was the culmination of years and years of work to get to this point,” said Matt Shaver, policy director with EdAllies.

Shaver and his team’s main mission is advocating for students at the Capitol.

“To be able to tell families that relief is coming, that money is going to go back into their pockets throughout the state, is a really exciting thing,” Shaver said.

Shaver, who’s a former teacher, knows firsthand the difference hunger can have in a classroom.

“I saw on kids’ faces when they would come into school in the morning, and you could tell they hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before,” he added.

Another organization working towards creating more moments like Friday is Washington D.C.-based Food Research & Action Center, or FRAC.

“Minnesota is now the fourth state to provide free school meals as a permanent part of the school day,” said Alexis Bylander, a senior manager with FRAC, adding that more than 20 other states are working to mimic Minnesota.

“Free school meals for all are so important to helping increase food security and ending childhood hunger,” Bylander said.

Opponents of the bill 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.

While lawmakers landed on a universal model, incorporating an income requirement was being considered as some felt wealthy families should not be included.