Legislative Food Fight Culminates in Win for School Lunches and ND Kids

Today, the Legislature passed SB 2284, which expands no-cost school meals to all North Dakota students from families making up to 200% of the federal poverty level. The policy mirrors language from Rep. LaurieBeth Hager’s (D-Fargo) amended school lunch bill, HB 1491. That bill originally would have provided no-cost lunches to all public school students. It was winnowed down to bring on GOP votes, but still failed to pass the Senate as a standalone bill.

Hager, who has led the charge for no-cost school lunches all session and helped revive the policy in SB 2284, said, “A hungry child is not a child that learns or behaves in the classroom. The Dem-NPL caucus has been fighting tooth and nail to make sure North Dakota children are fed. I’m so glad that we’ve gotten to this moment, but it’s startling how many hurdles this bill has encountered. North Dakota’s most essential legacy is our children and their education is our future.”

Earlier in the session, nearly 20 Republicans voted against Hager’s school lunch bill but voted to increase their own meal reimbursements. Even as SB 2284 came before the Senate for final passage, some Republicans continued to voice their inexplicable opposition to this commonsense policy. Sen. Judy Estensen (R-Warwick) described having to vote on the expanded school meals funding as “swallow[ing] a bitter pill.”

Rep. Zac Ista (D-Grand Forks), who introduced the companion bill to ban lunch shaming (HB 1494) strongly disagreed, saying passage of SB 2284 is one of the sweetest moments of this legislative session. “This isn’t a controversial idea in any part of the state other than in some extreme segments of the Capitol.” admonished Rep. Zac Ista. “I’m proud that our Democratic caucus has stood firm that we must pass lunch funding this session, and I’m proud we’ve gotten it done.”

Ista and Hager both credited a grassroots coalition of parents, educators, labor unions, school nutritionists, and many others with helping to get this policy across the finish line.  “Without the passionate voices of everyday North Dakotans from all corners of the state, this policy wouldn’t have gotten off the ground,” said Rep. Hager.