Free School Lunch Program May Expand

Posted at: 02/06/2013 7:31 PM
By: Dan Conradt

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- It's a lesson that Minnesota schools are learning from their students -- it's hard to concentrate on reading, writing and 'rithmetic when you're hungry.

“The research says eating well makes you more prepared to learn," said principal Dewey Schara at Austin’s Neveln Elementary school.

But eating well can be expensive.

"At Neveln, 64% of our students receive free and or reduced price lunch," principal Dewey Schara explained.

“It's based on the number of people in your household and what your annual income is," added Jane Arhart in the Austin Public Schools food service office.

But for many families, even a reduced price is too much for the household budget.

"It's two dollars a week, that's 40 cents a day. But for some families that is a hardship," Jane Arhart told us.

“And we have some families that have two, three, even four students just here at Neveln," principal Dewey Schara added.

About $250,000 Minnesota students now qualify for free school lunch.

"It's about not having the finances to pay for the lunch each day," Schara said.

A proposal in front of the legislature would make more than 61,000 students who now qualify for reduced price lunch eligible for free lunch.

"If we didn't have that kind of a program, literally many of those kids would not eat," said principal Dewey Schara.

“This is more than likely the only nutritious meal they will be served during the day," said Jane Arhart in the APS food services office.

"So not only do we need to have a lunch program, we need to be serving high quality food," Schara said.

He took us on a tour of the Neveln Elementary School cafeteria just as the school’s second graders were trooping in.

"Look over here, we've got lettuce, we've got oranges ... pears," he pointed out.

And … perhaps surprisingly … the kids love it.

"We go through so much more fruits and vegetables now than we did three years ago," Schara said.

School districts are reimbursed for providing free and reduced price lunches. Expanding the free lunch program would cost the state about 4-million dollars a year.