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Legislation could pave the way for free school meals for all Virginia students

Legislators are looking at a bill that would provide free meals for all public school students in Virginia.

Sen. Danica Roem, D-Manassas, introduced Senate Bill 283 earlier this month.

“This is about making sure that every kid who goes to school gets fed — no questions asked,” Roem said during a Public Education Subcommittee meeting.

If passed, all public school divisions in Virginia would be required to make meals available for free to any student unless their parent notifies the school board not to do so.

Currently, only schools that qualify for the federal Community Eligibility Provision can offer all students free meals. Schools qualify for the CEP if a certain percentage of their students are classified as low-income.

In Southwest Virginia, multiple school districts have some schools eligible while others aren’t. Those include:

  • Montgomery County Public Schools,
  • Roanoke County Public Schools,
  • Bedford County Public Schools,
  • Botetourt County Public Schools,
  • Giles County Public Schools,
  • Radford City Public Schools,
  • Salem City Public Schools.

Some Republicans including Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, aren’t in favor of the idea, at least for right now.

“I just obviously do not want any child to go hungry and do not want any child who cannot afford a meal to go hungry, either breakfast or lunch,” Peake said. “I just think at this point, I’m not quite ready to say that the Commonwealth is going to pay for breakfast and lunch for every child in the Commonwealth when you got [wealthy] counties.”

One group lobbying for the bill is the School Nutrition Association of Virginia.

The organization’s President, Larry Wade, believes this can help relieve the burden on working families.

“Similar to textbooks and transportation, we here at the School Nutrition Association of Virginia believe school meals should be available to all students at no cost,” Wade said.

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Source: WSLS News 10

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