Free school lunch program over budget, but Walz says it’s worth the cost

Free school lunch program over budget, but Walz says it’s worth the cost

Free school lunch program over budget, but Walz says it's worth the cost

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan celebrated what they view as a huge success for the free school meal program passed by the Minnesota Legislature last spring. So far this school year, the Walz administration says 1.1 million more breakfasts and 1.1 million more lunches have been served compared to the same time last year.

“It makes a huge difference in the lives of those families and the savings they see,” Walz told reporters after he worked a shift with the lieutenant governor serving free lunches at Edgerton Elementary in Maplewood. “It makes a huge difference in the moment for those students and we know that in the long run it’ll make a difference in the long run in achievement and the well-being of those students.”

With 31% more meals being served than anticipated when the state budget was created, the program is projected to be $176 million over budget over the next four years. The governor remains opposed to “means” testing so only students from lower-income families would qualify for free meals.  

“The amount of time we spend tracking some of that, the amount of time differentiating people…no. I think this is just the way to go,” he said. “We don’t means test for the electricity. We don’t means test for the carpet.”

Schools like Edgerton Elementary say they also have programs in place to make sure free food doesn’t go to waste.

“We have a share system set up, so yes, students are taught to take what they’re going to eat, but then what they don’t eat you saw a share bin for things that have not been touched,” said Maura Weyandt, principal of Edgerton Elementary. “Food waste here…not an issue.”

The governor says he’s confident lawmakers will find additional money to keep the free school meals program running.

RELATED: Gov. Walz signs bill for universal free school meals | School meals program starts taking burden off Minnesota parents | Universal school meal bill passes Minnesota House