PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Free lunch for all public school students in Rhode Island is one step closer to becoming a reality.
Tuesday night the Rhode Island Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill by a vote of 31-4 that would do just that. If the companion bill in the House were to pass, that takes effect July 1.
“Feeding students provides better outcomes,” Sen. Ana Quezada said. “If we can provide a better lunch for them, we can get a better-educated kid and we pay today or we pay tomorrow but one way or another we will end up paying for this.”
The bill would make breakfast and lunch free for all public school students in the state, regardless of their household income.
During the debate, the price tag was estimated to be between $36-40 million annually and is expected to rise with the cost of food, with the state picking up the tab for what federal funds don’t cover.
It’s a concern for those who are against the bill.
“Children from middle and low-income households already receive free lunch or discounted lunches. Under this bill, all taxpayers would be responsible for paying for the lunches of children whose parents have a reasonable income and are capable of providing meals for their children. This amounts to a new tax and it’s unfair,” Sen. Jessica de la Cruz said.
According to the Rhode Island Department of Education, about 62% of lunches served statewide are either free or reduced-price.
During the beginning of the pandemic, school lunch was provided to students nationwide for free due to federal emergency funding and waivers. That funding expired at the start of the current school year.