LINCOLN– With some help from state taxpayers, a bill considered by the Education Committee on Jan. 28 would help students who may be leaving lunch at school hungry because of financial constraints.
LB 251 would adopt the Child Hunger and Workforce Readiness Act, granting free lunches to students who already qualify for reduced-price lunches. The state Department of Education would cover the costs, which would total about $1.9 million per year.
Almost 150,000 Nebraska students qualified for free or reduced lunches at the start of the 2018-2019 school year. Students who currently qualify for reduced lunches pay 30 cents for school breakfasts and 40 cents for school lunches.
Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, who introduced the bill, said when she was a teacher, she would keep snacks at her desk because she knew some students weren’t able to pay for their lunches, even at a reduced cost. When a student is hungry, Walz said hunger takes students’ minds off learning.
The text of the bill reads: “Children must be well nourished before they are able to succeed in the classroom, and hunger is a significant barrier to student learning in the state.”
Walz said the consequences for students who qualify for reduced-price lunches can be social as well as mental. When students are behind on their lunch payments, she said schools often give them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their meal. That sandwich can signal to other students that they’re not able to pay for lunch.
“A lot of kids would just rather go without lunch than to have that stigma,” Walz said. “And they come back to class without eating lunch and very hungry and not able to concentrate.”
If LB 251 is passed, those students will not have to worry about the stigma anymore.
“We are really not funding our education like we should, period, in Nebraska,” Walz said. “I think this would be a way just to step up and just make sure that our kids are getting the best education that they can.”
The committee has not taken any action on the bill. Spokespersons from Nebraska Appleseed and Voices for Children in Nebraska testified in support of the bill. The bill faced no opposition.