Lawmakers hopeful for bill to reinforce state law regarding lunch debt

It would strengthen a 2014 law regarding treatment of students

Sloane Martin
May 11, 2019 - 6:36 pm

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While lawmakers are working on a number of bills to comprise the budget, many are hopeful one piece involving school lunch debt makes it through.

When Valerie Castile donated $8,000 last week to clear student lunch debt at Robbinsdale Cooper High School, it made national headlines. The Philando Castile Relief Foundation, named for her son, the former nutrition supervisor who was shot and killed by a St. Anthony police officer, allowed the students to graduate.

Since 2014, Minnesota statute already prohibits schools from withholding graduation ceremonies and activities due to lunch debt, as well as dumping lunches in the trash. A bill working its way through the process would clarify and strengthen that law, as well as allow the Department of Education to follow up with schools

Representative Tony Jurgens says it still happens too often.

"The school districts deserve to get paid for those lunches, the part that is not reimbursed by federal and state money," he said. "But that's between the adults. Let's let the kids be kids. Let the kids eat their lunches and let's worry about the bills between the parents and the schools -- not the kids."

Jurgens and Senate author Susan Kent say they understand the financial pressure for schools to recoup payment, but kids have to eat in order to learn.

"Districts struggle with their finances," she said. "The equation does get challenging and they have to sometimes make up this difference, and sometimes it's not a minor amount of money. But, there could be another way to solve this, rather than bringing the kids into it."

A similar provision as part of an omnibus bill was vetoed last session by Gov. Mark Dayton for unrelated reasons, but Jurgens is confident it will be signed by Gov. Tim Walz, a former teacher. 

The lunch debt bills passed off both the House and Senate floors and are in the conference committee as part of the education omnibus bill. The session deadline is May 20.

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