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Free school meal legislation heads to General Assembly

The bill would provide free breakfast and lunch to elementary and secondary public school students.

RICHMOND, Va. — A new bill heading to the Virginia House floor in Richmond would make sure public school students across the state have free breakfast and lunch.

Del. Mike Mullin said House Bill 1967 will allow students to focus on what matters most: getting an education.

“This bill was inspired by when Newport News Public Schools went 100% universal breakfast and lunch," Mullin said. "My own three boys were all elementary school students at the time. I saw that they and their peers were better prepared and their work improved when they weren’t hungry.”

He said the bill will get rid of school lunch debt and ensure all public-school students in elementary and secondary are eligible for free breakfast and lunch.

“Hungry kids are not equipped to learn," Mullin said. "Kids going into debt for food is an insult to our basic values. A starving kid is not set up to be successful in school.”

The bill has bipartisan support. Del. Tim Anderson, who has two children in Virginia Beach City Public Schools, said this bill is about reducing stigma. 

“Some kids have free and reduced lunches, some don’t. And the fundamental issue is that a child may be treated different in school whether their parents have money on their accounts or not," Anderson said.

He said it doesn’t matter how rich or poor a child’s parents are, all children should get the same free meal.

“I’ve seen it for myself that children have anxiety. ‘Did my moms credit card go through on my lunch account?’ That’s ridiculous for children to have any of that anxiety,” Anderson said.

Del. Danica Roem said what's most important is getting rid of school lunch debt and ensuring children who don’t have money don’t go hungry.

“School meal debt should not exist – as a concept or in reality," Roem said. "School meal debt should be a thing of the past and it is a failed system that allows that to happen in the first place.” 

The bill will require all public schools in Virginia to participate in the federal National School Lunch Program or the Community Eligibility Provision that allows school divisions to provide free breakfast and lunch.

Supporters of the legislation say every child deserves an education but it’s hard to learn if you don’t know where your next meal will come from.

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