Senators raise concerns over free school lunch bill

[anvplayer video=”5159367″ station=”998122″]

SANTA FE, N.M. – Despite more than an hour of spirited discussion, the free school meal bill is still at the starting line Wednesday night.

The Senate Education Committee ran out of time to vote on the proposal, and that’s because there’s a lot packed inside Senate Bill 4.

The $30 million proposal would make it possible for all districts to provide a free breakfast and lunch for students. But it also outlines where that food should come from, what to serve, when to serve it, and what to do with the leftovers.

There was broad support for the proposal from both lawmakers and attendees during the meeting. 

An estimated 309,000 students across all grade levels would benefit from the program.

Advocates say the bill will close the gap between low income and high income students, increase access to healthy food options, and above all – it makes sure every child is ready to learn.

“All the stories show that kids learn better when they are not hungry,” said Marie Johnson, president of the New Mexico School of Nutrition Association. “So, it just makes it part of the education process which it should be. Just like books are provided meals, breakfast and lunch needs to be provided to give every child the opportunity to learn at their greatest level.” 

Students are not the only ones expected to benefit from this program. The bill includes specific language encouraging school districts to purchase produce and dairy products from local farmers.

Senators raised some concerns about other sections, outlining recess time for young students, food quality requirements, and other rules for districts.

“I think there’s a lot of language barriers, some of the wording needs to be corrected. But there’s also concerns around implementation, how is this going to be rolled out? And how is it going to be rolled out equitably amongst all school districts,” said Johnson. 

Just like may other education-related proposals, there’s also concerns about the price tag. Some senators questioned if the state can maintain such an investment year-after-year.

The Senate Education Committee is expected to continue these discussions Friday morning.

Track SB 4 during the legislative session.