Franken wants to expand free school lunch program

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Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken is renewing his call to expand the free school lunch program to cover children who now pay a reduced price for their meals.

“We should really be committed to making sure kids don’t go hungry at school,” Franken said in an interview with the Star Tribune. "It's just wrong."

Franken had lunch Monday with kindergarteners at Meadow Lake Elementary School in New Hope to call attention to his proposal. School officials say 79 percent of the students at Meadow Lake qualify for free or reduced lunches, WCCO reports.

Right now, students whose parents make between 130 percent and 185 percent of the federal poverty rates qualify for reduced-priced lunch, which cost 40 cents per meal. Families who are beneath the 130 percent poverty rate qualify for free lunch.

Franken wants to eliminate the "reduced price" tier, and have all students who live up to 185 percent of the poverty line get free lunch. The regular price of a school lunch varies by school district and by grade level, but it generally ranges between $2 and $2.75.

Franken, a member of the Senate Education Committee, has introduced his bill twice before but it hasn't became law.

The cost of school lunch was in the news recently when some Minnesota school districts said they only offer students a cheese sandwich when their meal accounts run out and are not replenished.

That's not the case at Meadow Lake elementary and in the rest of the Robbinsdale district schools. Students still are served lunch even if their accounts are empty. The school district absorbs the additional expense, which can reach $40,000 per year, according to WCCO.

Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators are working on a proposal to have the state pay for the additional cost for students whose parents can’t pay for the reduced-price lunches. The House has approved the $3.5 million measure; the Senate has not yet taken it up.

One of Franken’s GOP challengers, Mike McFadden, says the issue highlights the differences between the two of them, according to the Star Tribune.

McFadden said Franken favors the federal government addressing a problem that state leaders are already working on.

“We should really look to the state or local government,” McFadden said, according to the Star Tribune.

State Sen. Julianne Ortman, Franken’s other GOP challenger, did not immediately respond to the paper's request for comment.

Franken's office said he will introduce the measure within the next few weeks.

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