New Mexico governor wants free lunch for all students K-12

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wants New Mexico to help provide school lunches without charge to all K-12 students across the state.

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett confirmed Tuesday that the governor will pursue legislation when lawmakers meet in January 2023 to ensure that every student has access to free and nutritious school meals by covering the cost of breakfast and lunch for students that don’t already qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

The newly reelected Democratic governor alluded to the proposal Tuesday during a speech in Philadelphia to a convention on public health policy.

“Starting right now, no one pays for a meal in school,” Lujan Grisham said. “And this doesn’t just mean pizza slices and chocolate pudding.”

New Mexico distributed millions of meals to children free of charge during the outset of the coronavirus pandemic across the state’s 89 school districts, in efforts underwritten by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The new initiative backed by the governor would build on efforts to combat hunger by offsetting co-payment charges for school meals.

Sackett said more details of proposed state spending on school meals will be released in early January within the governor’s annual state spending recommendations to the Legislature. New Mexico is in the midst of a windfall in state government income linked to surging oil production, amid concern about climate impacts and gyrations in energy prices.

New Mexico has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the American West and passed a law in 2017 against so-called lunch shaming — practices that can single-out children in any way for unpaid meals at school.

The law directed schools to work directly with parents to address missed meal payments and requires that children get a healthy, balanced meal regardless of whether debts are paid on time.