Nebraska Bill to Provide Free School Lunches to All Public Schools

OMAHA, Nebraska (Nebraska) – Across the state of Nebraska, thousands of low-income students are eligible for free or low-cost school lunches and breakfasts.

“Studies show that when a child is hungry, it prevents him from focusing and earning in the classroom,” says Nebraska Senator Machaela Cavanaugh at a legislative hearing on LB99, one of her priority bills.

Kavanaugh, who represents West Central Omaha, wants to take things one step further when it comes to school meals.

“LB99 will make sure every public school student gets free meals during the school day,” she adds.

If it becomes law, every student, regardless of family income, will receive free breakfast and lunch in public schools.

Among those who testified in favor of the bill was 17-year-old Jennifer Solano, a high school student at Lincoln East High School.

Solano says she comes from an immigrant family and has always been eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. Solano says that during the pandemic, when meals were free for every student, it was a relief.

“In the 2021-2022 school year, when my dad was the only one working, barely making money, and having no clients, my family knew they didn’t have to worry about us eating at least one meal because we had free dinner. lunch at school,” she says.

Solano says free meals at LPS have been discontinued and she hopes Nebraska will join the list of states that offer free meals to every student.

“If this is accepted, it will make a big difference because I will know that others will have the opportunity to go to school and fully learn and interact with others without having to worry about having to get lunch money from their parents in advance or go to a whole day. hungry.”

In Metro Omaha, the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals varies by district:

Ralston has the highest score with 52%, followed by Westside and Bellevue with 38.4% and 35%.

Papillion-La Vista is 27% and Millard is 25%. The lowest rates are in Elkhorn and Bennington at 9% and Gretna at 8%.

This list does not include Omaha Public Schools. The district is already offering free meals to all students through the federal Community Eligibility Provision, which the district became eligible for in December 2021.

The CEP designation allows Omaha Public Schools to continue to offer free meals to enrolled students through the 2024-2025 school year. Other areas in the area are not yet eligible for the program, but educators say it makes a huge difference.

“When CEP went into effect where I worked, you could feel the shift in the culture of the school cafeteria, no one was worried about when they went through the lunch line, the kids could be kids, they were excited about strawberry milk. whatever was available, they grabbed their trays and sat down to dine with their peers. I have never had to hand out another piece of paper to a student or family saying they owe money,” says educator Anahi Salazar.

Senator Kavanaugh tells the Education Committee that this is a step Nebraska needs to take to ensure a more prosperous future for children in the state.

“I want to get rid of the stigmatization of the cafeteria for students who are bullied because they have to eat free food, which defines their family as low-income. Nebraska is America’s breadbasket, and yet Feeding America estimates that one in six children in Nebraska is food insecure,” she says.

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