September 2023 marked the first school year where Minnesota’s new permanent “Free School Meals for Kids Program” will be in effect as part of the House’s newly passed bill. For many families, the cost of school meals can add up over time and aggravate any financial strain they’re under. The Free School Meals for Kids Program provides financial relief by offering all students a free breakfast and lunch every day they’re in school.

Unlike the Community Eligibility Provision, which provides federal funding when more than 62 percent of students at a school are eligible, the Free School Meals for Kids program is state-funded and operates without an income limit.

Eligibility for most federal programs is almost always determined by a household’s income level or by a school’s percentage of food-insecure students. Some students might not need to prove their family’s income is in the appropriate range if they’re a part of other government assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The added hurdle of proving eligibility often has the unintended consequence of barring those in need from participating – which, according to Minnesota’s Hunger-Free Schools Campaign, amounts to one in four children in the state.

The Free School Meals for Kids Program helps provide for students who are food-insecure but may not qualify, or children who can’t easily prove eligibility for financial aid programs, maximizing federal funding to ensure no kid goes hungry.

Advantages of the Free School Meals for Kids Program

Hunger can significantly impact a child’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school. This program helps students maintain a balanced diet by providing consistent and nutritious meals, which are essential to their physical and mental development. Improved concentration in the classroom may also result in improved academic outcomes and, ultimately, increased opportunities later in life.

Because the program is offered to everyone, it also eliminates the tedious paperwork and bureaucratic delays of its federal counterparts, making it easier for students to receive the meals they need to grow and thrive.

By offering free or reduced-cost meals to everyone, The Free School Meals for Kids Program helps to remove baseless stigmas or social barriers surrounding meal programs, minimizing the potential for bullying, embarrassment or discrimination.

However, one limitation of the bill is that it only covers one free breakfast and one free lunch. Second servings will come at an additional cost. Students can purchase à la carte items like an extra milk carton separately.

Who Is Eligible for the Free School Meals for Kids Program?

Although the Free School Meals for Kids program has significantly fewer barriers than federal programs, it still has a couple of eligibility requirements that schools and families need to clear. To participate in the Free School Meals for Kids Program, schools must operate under the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program. They can’t choose between breakfast or lunch either; your child’s school must be enrolled in both to receive the program’s benefits.

While all students can receive a free meal regardless of income, they must be physically enrolled in the school to be eligible for the program. This means those who are homeschooled or enrolled in online school won’t be able to participate.

Connect with a Vast Network of Civil Rights Attorneys Experienced in Education and School Laws in Minnesota

If your child’s school refuses to provide them with a free meal and disputes your eligibility, or if you’re experiencing other issues such as wrongful suspension or discrimination, our referral counselors can help connect you with a qualified lawyer who will fight for your child’s rights.

At the Minnesota Lawyer Referral and Information Service (MNLRIS), we help people in the Minneapolis–St. Paul metro area find aggressive and attentive legal representation that will work hard to secure the best possible outcome for their case.

To learn more about how you can connect with a local, private practice attorney who specializes in education and school laws, call (612) 752-6699 or explore our frequently asked questions page today.