Bill seeks to make S.C. school meals free again for all students

Sen. Katrina Shealy says she’s requested a report on how much it would cost to implement free school meals – but those numbers aren’t available yet.
Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 6:04 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Right now, more than 60 percent of public-school students in South Carolina qualify for free or reduced-cost meals.

But starting next year, a Lexington County state senator wants every student in the state to eat for free at school.

Republican Sen. Katrina Shealy says she’s requested a report on how much it would cost to implement this – but those numbers aren’t available yet.

Shealy says if the state wants to invest in its children, its future – this is a worthy place to do so.

For the past two school years – every student in the country ate for free because of a federal, pandemic-related program.

But that program wasn’t renewed.

Hundreds of thousands of South Carolina students have a family income that still qualifies them for free or reduced-price meals – which the federal government pays for, but they have to apply for the benefit at the start of every school year.

Shealy’s bill would make that automatic – no paperwork necessary.

“Everybody’s got somebody that this would affect,” Shealy said. “If you’re a teacher, it affects your students. If you’re a doctor, it affects your patients. It affects everybody.”

If schools or districts have enough students who qualify for these meals, then they can apply for the federal government to cover the cost of meals for every student in that school or district.

More than half of South Carolina’s school districts fall into this category – but not all of them go through the process of applying for free meals for every student.

This bill would require those schools and districts do that – again, with that money coming from the federal government.

Then the state would cover the remaining costs to ensure every student eats for free at school.

“A lot of studies have been able to indicate that children who are not from homes who have consistent access to meals really, their academic performance can suffer because they’re not receiving proper nutrition on a consistent basis,” said Meg Stanley, executive director of the nonprofit Wholespire, which works to promote healthy communities in South Carolina.

The bill would also guarantee that students have at least 20 minutes every day to sit down and eat their lunch.

Lawmakers won’t be able to take this bill up and debate it until the new legislative session begins next month.

Stanley says the measure has the support of Wholespire.

“This is something several states are looking at right now,” Stanley said, “and we want to try to be a leader in something positive.”