Price tag threatens expansion of Virginia's free school meals program
A Virginia Senator is hoping to expand existing free school meal programs across the commonwealth. But the bill’s eye-popping price tag has already caused a hiccup in the House.
“As someone who grew up with the little card that I went through the lunch line with on free and reduced lunch, I can appreciate the stories that were shared today.”
That’s Roanoke-area Delegate Sam Rasoul at a House committee hearing earlier this week where the body voted to “gently” table a bill to expand existing free lunch and breakfast programs in schools across the state. Among his concerns is the estimated cost: over $350 million over two years.
Critics of the effort include Lynchburg-area Senator Mark Peake who argued some of the nation’s wealthiest counties - and parents who can afford school lunches - are in Virginia and those millions could be better spent.
“You could hire two thousand plus teachers a year to actually teach our poor and underserved children," Peake told Radio IQ.
But Prince William-area Senator Danica Roem, who’s carrying her chamber’s version of the bill and has long championed free school meals, says it could save parents up to one thousand dollars a year. And she’s not worried about the effort’s pit stop in the House.
“Keep in mind, I carry many cards in my pockets,” Roem said.
Among her solutions to the sticker-shock? Following in Pennsylvania’s footsteps where their legislature passed a bipartisan law offering free breakfast only. The senator said, “everything’s on the table right now."
Roem’s bill received bipartisan support in its first committee hearing, but the Senate’s appropriations committee will have its say in the coming weeks.