Legislature considers free school breakfast and lunch for all students

Published: May. 30, 2023 at 4:22 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Typically, images of school lunch programs show lines of kids with trays in their hands looking for a place to sit in the school lunchroom. Those images almost always include elementary school children. But the program is offered to more than just elementary school kids.

And it is no less important to an older student’s learning says Natha Anderson.

“I really want to help them be critical thinkers not just automatically assume that everything that is told to them is accurate,” says Anderson. “I want them to push back, but if they are worried about their food, or if they are still hungry, they cannot ask those questions.”

Anderson not only serves in the Nevada Assembly, but she also teaches high school.

She says with early morning tight schedules and bus routes, many students don’t get the opportunity to eat breakfast, and it shows in the classroom.

“Be able to concentrate instead on the items that are being taught,” says Anderson about the importance of that first meal of the day. “As opposed to a stomach rumbling. Which if you have ever been around 15- or 16-year-olds it happens often.”

That is why Anderson is supporting bill AB 319.

It calls for free breakfast and lunch to all students in Nevada regardless of their ability to pay. The bill means $100 million dollars over two years which would come from the state general fund. Districts will be able to apply for grants to help fund the free breakfast and lunch program.

In Washoe County 35,000 students are part of the free breakfast and lunch program.

In some districts, excluding Washoe, Assemblywoman Anderson says students are placed in a separate line from those who can pay for breakfast and lunch. This program she says would stop the stigma attached to students whose family is low income.

The bill is not supported by everyone.

In a written statement, Assemblywoman Jill Dickman, a republican who represents District 31 said:

“I oppose this bill because, frankly, the quality of the lunches we’re serving needs to be addressed before we start feeding it to our kids twice a day. The school lunches I’ve seen are the furthest thing from nutrition and our children deserve better. Also, free school lunch programs should be for students who truly need them, and this bill would offer lunches to those who can already afford it.”

The bill was heard in Assembly Ways and Means on May 19th and is exempt from deadlines. It still needs to pass out of committee, the Nevada Assembly, and then pass through Senate Finance, the full Senate and land on the Governor’s desk for signature. That all must happen in less than a week.

Sponsored by the Assembly Majority Leader the bill is still in play until midnight June 5th.