The Potluck

Walz signs universal free school meals into law

By: - March 17, 2023 4:01 pm

Students from Webster Elementary School in northeast Minneapolis hugged Gov. Tim Walz after he signed a bill on March 17 providing free breakfast and lunch to Minnesota students. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

Gov. Tim Walz on Friday signed a bill to provide free breakfast and lunch to all Minnesota students at eligible schools.

Walz signed the bill surrounded by lawmakers, community advocates and young students at Webster Elementary School in northeast Minneapolis. The second-term DFL governor lauded how universal meals will help make Minnesota the best state in the country to raise a child — one of Walz’s key budget priorities.

“This bill puts us one step closer to making Minnesota the best state for kids to grow up, and I am grateful to all of the legislators and advocates for making it happen,” Walz said in a statement.

The majority of Minnesota schools receive federal funding from the National School Lunch Program, which reimburses schools for each meal served, though it doesn’t cover the cost of the entire meal. Under the new law, schools are prohibited from charging students for the remaining cost, and the state will foot the rest of the bill — about $200 million annually.

Lt. Gov Peggy Flanagan in an emotional speech talked about her experience growing up with food insecurity, noting that about one in six Minnesota children don’t always have enough to eat.

“To our decision-makers who believe they have never met someone who is experiencing or has experienced hunger — Hi, my name is Peggy Flanagan, and I was one in six of those Minnesota children who experienced hunger,” she said.

Flanagan was referencing a now-viral clip from the state Senate’s debate over the bill earlier this week. Sen. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, questioned on the floor whether food insecurity was actually an issue in Minnesota. 

“I have yet to meet a person in Minnesota that is hungry,” Drazkowski said before voting against the bill. “I have yet to meet a person in Minnesota that says they don’t have access to enough food to eat.”

Minnesota is now the fourth state, including California, Colorado and Maine, to implement universal free meals for students. Walz said more funding for education is coming and that his administration is “just getting started.”

“The big stuff is still coming,” Walz said.

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.