Why changes could be ahead for S.C. school meal program

There may be big changes ahead surrounding who’s in charge of the meals served at South Carolina schools.
Published: Oct. 24, 2023 at 5:41 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C (WRDW/WAGT) - There may be big changes ahead surrounding who’s in charge of the meals served at South Carolina schools.

It’s the focus of a committee at the State House that’s made up of lawmakers and representatives from both the education and agriculture sectors.

The committee has a few questions that could shake up the school meals program in South Carolina.

But the big question is whether the state Department of Education should stay in charge of the school nutrition program or whether that should go to the Department of Agriculture.


“If the government’s got a program that’s working, you better leave it alone because we do a whole lot of programs that aren’t working so good,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Greg Hembree, R-Horry.

Hembree says from the testimony this committee has heard, he thinks the Department of Education is doing a good job operating school nutrition services.

Hembree says he hasn’t seen enough evidence to warrant moving the program to the Department of Agriculture – and he believes it would cause needless disruption.

But not everyone shares his views – with other committee members still on the fence and some in favor of the transition to the Department of Agriculture.

Rep. Jermaine Johnson says he was initially against moving food services, but now feels it’s the best option to support South Carolina students in the cafeteria and the classroom.

“South Carolina is consistently in the bottom every year when it comes to education. So I don’t see, personally, how offloading some of these responsibilities or sending it over somewhere else is going to be a bad thing for our Department of Education, to spend more time on educating our children,” said Johnson, D-Richland.

The committee ultimately decided Tuesday to wait and get some more information before issuing any recommendations.

That includes testimony about a potential hybrid model that would keep some responsibilities with the Department of Education while shifting others to the Department of Agriculture – as well as updated data that could clue them in on the cost of offering free school meals to every student in the state.

This committee plans to meet at least once more to figure out its recommendations.