Surrounded by students, teachers, and advocates, Democratic Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Friday afternoon signed into law a bill to provide breakfast and lunch at no cost to all of the state’s roughly 820,000 K-12 pupils regardless of their household income.
The move to make Minnesota the fourth U.S. state to guarantee universal free school meals—joining California, Maine, and Colorado—elicited praise from progressives.
“Beautiful,” tweeted Stephanie Kelton, a professor of economics and public policy at Stony Brook University.
UC-Berkeley professor and former U.S. labor secretary Robert Reich wrote on social media: “Let this serve as a reminder that poverty is a policy choice. In the richest country in the world, it is absolutely inexcusable that millions of our children go to school hungry because they are living in poverty.”
An estimated 1 in 6 children in Minnesota don’t get enough to eat on a regular basis. But 1 in 4 food-insecure kids live in households that don’t qualify for the federal free and reduced meal program, leading to “mounting school lunch debts in the tens of thousands of dollars,” Minnesota Public Radio reported.
Tens of thousands of children are set to benefit from Minnesota’s new law, which could be operational as early as summer school in July. Some of them were there to thank Walz at the signing ceremony, where the sense of elation was palpable.
“As a former teacher, 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,” Walz said. “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 Minnesota House—led by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party, the state’s Democratic affiliate—first passed the bill in February in a 70-58 party-line vote. The state Senate—where the DFL holds just a single-seat advantage—approved it on Tuesday by a 38-26 margin. The state House rubber-stamped an amended version of the bill on Thursday.
During Friday’s signing ceremony, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan (DFL) said, “To our decision-makers who believe they have never met someone who is experiencing or has experienced hunger: Hi, my name is Peggy Flanagan, and I was 1 in 6 of those Minnesota children who experienced hunger.”
“By providing free breakfast and lunch to all of our students, we are removing barriers and removing stigma from the lunch room,” said Flanagan. “We are helping family pocketbooks, especially for those 1 in 4 who don’t qualify for financial assistance with school meals. We are leading with our values that no child should go hungry for any reason, period.”
“This is an investment in the well-being of our children, as well as an investment in their academic success,” Flanagan added, calling the “generation-changing” bill “the most important thing” she’s ever worked on in her life.
Originally published at Commondreams.org.