Our view: North Dakota’s school lunch plan is still alive. Now, let’s pass it.

A proposal to move forward with free lunches for many North Dakota school children still exists. This is good news.

Herald pull quote, 4/19/23
Herald graphic

A proposal to move forward with free lunches for many North Dakota school children still exists. Senate Bill 2284 – defeated in the Senate but revived in a House committee – seeks to pay for lunches for students from low-income families.

This is good news, and hopefully lawmakers will see fit to push it through. It would allow for more kids – but not all kids – to qualify for free lunches. At present, federal funding exists to provide free meals for any student whose family earns below 130% poverty level; the proposed state allocation would cover even more students, up to 200% of the federal poverty level.

According to reporting by Forum News Service, it means families of four with income at or below $60,000 would qualify for the proposed program in North Dakota.

Truth is, the optics on this issue aren’t great, and they’re getting worse by the week. Recently, the state Senate killed a bill that included the school lunch funding by a single vote. Meanwhile, lawmakers approved increasing meal stipends for state employees, including members of the Legislature.

It has prompted headlines even in national news outlets. The Huffington Post, for example, wrote about it under this headline: “North Dakota Senate votes to expand free meals for its members – and not for kids.”


The Huffington Post noted comments made by Sen. Mike Wobbema, R-Valley City.

“We talk about personal responsibility as one of the major principles the Republican Party stands on,” Wobbema said on the Senate floor during discussion of the bill. “Yes, I can understand kids going hungry, but is that really the problem of the school district? Is it the problem of the state of North Dakota? It’s really the problem of parents being negligent with their kids, if their kids are choosing to eat in the first place. …”

Yes, Sen. Wobbema, it is a problem for the state of North Dakota, because some kids are indeed hungry and their parents simply cannot pay or will not pay. These kids can’t be expected to find the money themselves, and they are forced by the state to attend school each day. If we’re forcing them to be there, we must be sure they are fed, on our dime. Same as how the Legislature obviously feels state employees and lawmakers should be fed on the taxpayers’ dime when they are forced to be away from home.

Meanwhile, students for years have been shamed by being turned away or being subjected to other discriminatory actions that have opened them to ridicule. Or, they’re forced to eat a reduced-price option.

Rep. Zac Ista, who wrote a letter to the Herald urging passage of expanded free lunches, said he is hopeful this can still happen. He agrees that the optics aren’t good, considering the recent decision to boost meal stipends for state employees and also a decision to enact a new voucher program for private schools.

“I think there is a good chance we will increase that threshold for school lunches based on senators realizing that it’s probably not good policy to increase funding for ourselves and other state employees,” Ista said in a Monday interview with the Grand Forks Herald. “It’s not a good look to create a new private school subsidy program on a much more generous level. They’re going to hopefully get a second chance to right the ship. The House has strongly supported this, with bipartisan support. It’s really just up to the Senate to find that one more vote that was missing the first time.”

We’re glad this good-news and impactful proposal is still alive.

Now, let’s get it passed.

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