JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – At least two state lawmakers, including one Republican and one Democrat, are calling for free lunches and breakfast at Missouri public schools as soon as next year.
Missouri State Rep. Brian Seitz (R – District 156) pre-filed H.B. 172 ahead of the upcoming Missouri legislative session. According to the bill, every student in a Missouri public school should have access to “one free breakfast and one free lunch each day.”
Seitz tells FOX 2 that many Missouri students relied on a federal free meals program during earlier stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. That program has since been discontinued, but he believes Missouri can use a surplus to allocate money for a free meals program for decades.
“I think that’s extremely important for their educational day and their ability to learn, that they’re doing so with a nutritious breakfast or lunch,” said Seitz. “I think the time has come. The issue has been floated for a number of years now, and it was proven during the pandemic that it could actually be done.”
Language in the pre-filed one-page bill is a bit truncated, but Seitz hopes that will help discussions on free school meals advance faster in the Missouri House and Senate.
“I think it that’s very important to the Speaker of the House and new floor leader, that we want it to be known here in Missouri that we take care of our children,” said Seitz. “If we can find ways to make this sustainable, a program that could last for decades, I think this is the time we take a look at it.”
For Seitz, it’s the first time he has sponsored legislation on the issue. He also pre-filed H.B. 173 with hopes to improve relations between farmers and schools, possibly opening the door for excess produce, processed livestock and local-grown products at schools.
Missouri State Sen. Angela Mosley (D – District 13) has pre-filed similar legislation in support of free schools meals. S.B. 321, also referred to as the “Missouri Universal School Meals Act,” would enable schools to provide a reimbursable meal for students after an application process.
According to her legislation, “a school shall determine which students are eligible for free and reduced price meals under the federal student meals programs.” Under this bill, the State Board of Education would establish rules for the program.
The concept of free meals at Missouri public schools could have bipartisan support, though it’s possible there could be some debate as to how it happens. Unrelated to both bills, Missouri was the only state to opt out of a summer program last year to provide grab-and-go meals for students in need, a decision strongly defended by Gov. Mike Parson.
The 2023 legislative session, when these bills can be debated among Missouri lawmakers, begins Jan. 4 in Jefferson City.