North Dakota House revives plan to fund free school lunches for low-income kids

Earlier this week, the Senate killed a bill containing the free lunch funding by a one-vote margin. The House, which had previously passed the legislation, isn't giving up on the idea.

A child holds a full lunch tray in a bustling lunch room.
Roosevelt Elementary students grab lunch in the school cafeteria on Jan. 30, 2023, in Fargo.
David Samson / The Forum

BISMARCK — The North Dakota House of Representatives has resurrected a proposed expansion of a free school lunch program for K-12 students days after the Senate narrowly rejected the plan.

The Republican-dominated House on Friday, March 31, approved the addition of a $6 million appropriation to Senate Bill 2284 that would cover lunch costs for students from low-income families. House budget writers will consider the proposal before the full chamber votes whether to send it back to the Senate.

Earlier this week, the GOP-led Senate killed a bill containing the free lunch funding by a one-vote margin. The House advanced the lunch funding in February.

A federal program already provides free meals to students from families making below 130% of the federal poverty level, so the state allocation would cover kids with family incomes between 130-200% of the poverty level.

That means families of four with incomes at or below $60,000 would qualify for the proposed free lunch program in North Dakota, according to current poverty level income figures.


Senate Bill 2284 started in the legislative pipeline as a more narrowly focused school funding proposal, but the House Education Committee this week added nine pages of amendments to the bill, including the free lunch program.

Williston Rep. Scott Dyk and several other Republican committee members unsuccessfully attempted to strip the lunch funding from the bill on Wednesday.

Opponents of expanding the lunch program say parents should be responsible for providing their children with lunches at school. Bill supporters argue it represented a low-cost measure that would directly benefit children.

If the House and Senate cannot come to terms on the lunch program or any other provisions in Senate Bill 2284, a so-called conference committee with members of each chamber would be tasked with ironing out an agreement.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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