Vermont Looks To Become The First State To Provide Free Meals To All Public School Students

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There has been a lot of discussions recently about school meals. It isn’t always the nutrition that is the subject of those stories, sometimes it is ‘lunch shaming’ because some children can’t afford the lunch that is provided.

It seems as if this may be changing in Vermont, thanks to state Democratic Sen. Debbie Ingram. A bill was proposed last week that would provide school lunch and breakfast at no charge for any student through 12th grade in the public school system. Sen. Ingram is not the only person behind this initiative. A Republican has also cosponsored the bill, which is being pushed forward, despite heavy disinvestment seen in the economical food policies by the Trump administration.

“The cost of school meals that are not reimbursed through federal funds or other sources would be borne by school districts, and therefore ultimately borne by the Education Fund,” the bill states.

Ingram said that the program would not be put into place all at once. It is set to be fully operational by 2025 after being phased in over a five-year period. Ingram feels that it will help to fill a need of families with low income. According to estimates, it will take some $4 million from the Education Fund on an annual basis. CNN reports that Ingram was not able to provide specific details on the program.

“People do need to be convinced because the concern is the cost. We are being careful to not put too much of a burden on taxpayers,” Ingram said. “We want to eliminate this last piece of inequity in ways we educate our students. Make sure no student has to know what hunger feels like at school,” whilst adding, “I am very confident that we will get to universal school meals in Vermont. Might not be this year, but we have strong support in Legislature.”

According to Anore Horton, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont, some 16,400 students in the public school system in Vermont received breakfast and lunch using taxpayer money.

More than 89,000 students in the public school system will be able to get free meals under the program once the bill is passed. Hunger Free Vermont is also a supporter of the program. “What’s happening now is that there is a hodgepodge of which schools provide one meal, or both meals, and how they pay for those meals,” Ingram told The Denver Channel. “People do need to be convinced because the concern is the cost. We are being careful to not put too much of a burden on taxpayers,” she added.

According to CNN, Horton said the bill is about getting rid of the “stigma and shame” that students and families might experience when they incur debt with the traditional school meals program.

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