West Virginia senate votes to give all students free lunches

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March 31, 2013

West Virginia

By Phil Sletten

CHARLESTON, West Virginia: The West Virginia State Senate unanimously approved a bill that would provide free lunches to all public school students in the state.[1] The bill would begin by providing breakfasts and lunches for elementary school students, and then expand to all students as more funds become available. If enacted, this legislation would make West Virginia the first state to provide free lunches to all students.[2]

Funding for the legislation would come from expanded use of federal subsidies for free and reduced lunches through existing programs. The rest of the funding would be gathered through foundations set up by county governments. These foundations would raise money from local, private entities. Currently, half of all school children in West Virginia qualify for free and reduced-price lunches through federal programs, although actual participation rates were lower. The state will be reimbursed by the federal government for the expanded free lunches given to currently unenrolled children. About one in every four children in West Virginia lived in households with incomes below the federal poverty line in 2011.[2]

The bill's supporters, including Select Committee on Children and Poverty Chair John Unger (D), cited research emphasizing the benefits to learning associated with having well-fed children in classrooms relative to hungry children.[3] Unger noted that the state already provides free textbooks and bus rides, and that food was the next logical step. He also said that wealthy parents should continue to pay through donations to the program.[4] Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall (R) stressed that this program would only expand as quickly as the funds became available.[5]

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