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State-covered reduced school lunch gets another chance in Pierre


One piece of legislation could see the state cover reduced lunches for students. The bill’s primary sponsor said it will directly improve the quality of life for families across the state while keeping in line with federal regulations.

The bill, sponsored by Sioux Falls Democrat Kadyn Wittman, would reimburse school districts for free and reduced lunch.

Wittman explained the parameters of the bill.

“Reduced meals are families that fall between 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty line," Wittman said. "What my bill would do is cover the cost of the reduced portion of meals for families falling between 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty line. I think it has an affordable fiscal note of just under $600,000.”

The investment wouldn’t be short-term.

“This is in perpetuity, so it would be a dollar amount we need to keep rolling forward in years to come," Wittman said. "Again, just due to inflation and the rising costs of everything in our communities I think this is one way for us to invest in our communities and our most vulnerable families in South Dakota.”

A similar bill was brought last year, and a primary criticism of that proposal was that it disincentivized families to fill out federal paperwork. Wittman said that’s been addressed this year.

“Taking that feedback, I tried to figure out how I could bring a bill that could act as a carrot for the Department of Ed to get families to fill out this paperwork and would also still support our most vulnerable and marginalized families, and I think that’s exactly what we’ve landed on with this bill," Wittman said. "It is a way for the Department of Ed to encourage families to fill out this paperwork knowing that even if they fall into the reduced category, it will essentially be free because the state is covering its cost.”

The bill, HB 1042, will be heard in the upcoming legislative session. That begins next week.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture