Senator Nelson statement on concerns with universal school lunches bill

Senator Carla Nelson
3 min readMar 15, 2023

Watch Senator Nelson’s floor comments about the concerns with the school lunches bill.

ST. PAUL — Minnesota State Senator Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) issued the following statement about concerns from teachers, principals, and school officials about the universal school lunch bill:

Friends and neighbors —

Parents, teachers, principals, and superintendents contact me on a regular basis about a host of education concerns, including special education funding, per-pupil funding increases, school-linked mental health, safe schools, and much more. Universal Free lunch and breakfast is not near the top of their priority lists.

The universal free lunch and breakfast bill is certainly well-intended. As a former teacher, I know from experience that hungry children are not at prime learning capacity.

That is why the federal government pays for free or reduced lunch and breakfast for students from families making less than 185% of Federal Poverty Guidelines. ($55000 family of four). In Minnesota, we go a step further and provide free lunch and breakfast for all who qualify.

It will cost taxpayers $200M per year to buy free lunches and breakfasts for children whose parents make too much money to qualify.

Students will lose $460 million in compensatory funding which is determined by the number of free lunch qualifiers.

We should redouble our efforts to reach those families who want assistance and aren’t getting it. We should do everything we can to make sure every child that is in need can obtain free lunches and breakfasts.

Supporters of universal free lunch and breakfast expressed concern that 18% of families whose children qualify for free lunch do not even apply for it. I know firsthand that school districts make great efforts to seek applications from all who qualify in an effort to maximize their compensatory funding.

Many, if not most, parents who qualify but do not apply, make a conscious decision to not apply.

They prefer to provide their own lunches for their children.

If we need to make the application and paperwork simpler, then we ought to do that. But we don’t need a universal free lunch program to achieve it. Students who need free lunch are already able to get it.

1 absolutely understand the appeal of this bill. Families really need relief.

Inflation is cutting into their budgets, yet even with a $19 billion surplus, the majority parties have passed no significant tax relief this session.

The bill author said universal free lunches and breakfasts would be one way to provide relief. But the fact is that this relief would not go to lower-income or middle-income families, because they already have options for free lunches and breakfasts.

Instead, this bill will provide the upper-middle-class and wealthy with free lunches at the expense of everyone else, including people with no kids, grown kids, and seniors.

It is a well-meaning bill but is the wrong policy for Minnesota schools, families, and taxpayers.

-Carla

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