Vermont bill proposes free school lunches for all students

A bill in Vermont would make school lunches free for all students. (Getty/Ckline)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Some legislators in Vermont are proposing that public schools provide meals to all students regardless of their ability to pay, which they say would make it the first state to provide universal school meals.

Nearly a quarter of the state’s public schools already provide breakfast and lunch to students without charging the individual families, NECN and NBC10 Boston reported. The state would need to maximize federal money with other costs coming from the education fund to expand it statewide, one lawmaker behind the proposal said.

Advocates said universal meals would be good public health, eliminate embarrassment among children who don’t have lunch money and increase student learning.

“When students are hungry, they simply cannot concentrate on class activities or lessons,” said longtime English teacher Don Tinney, president of Vermont-NEA: The Union of Vermont Educators.

“This is an equity issue,” Anore Horton, executive director of Hunger Free Vermont said this week. “Treat food as the educational tool it is.”

Rep. Larry Cupoli, R-Rutland, who serves on the House Education Committee and Vermont Child Poverty Council, said he would favor universal school meals, saying the state has a problem with poverty. However, he predicted, others will likely question how to measure cost-effectiveness, how much money will come from Washington and what impact the program would have on taxpayers.

“I want everybody to eat, but not at the expense of the property tax,” said Rep. Marcia Martel, R-Waterford.

At the Smilie Memorial School in Bolton, an anonymous person just paid hundreds of dollars in school meal debts that some families have had trouble paying, said principal Barbara Tomasi-Gay.

“I’ve heard from a couple of (families), and they’re very, very grateful,” she said.