Universal school meals ‘will impact’ MPS

Superintendent says questions remain about funding

Photo by Deb Gau Students sat down to lunch at Southview Elementary in Marshall on Tuesday. Recent legislation making school meals free for all Minnesota students was an “exciting” thing for the district, Marshall Superintendent Jeremy Williams said this week.

MARSHALL — Recent legislation making school meals free for Minnesota students will be a positive thing for area children, said Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams.

“It will impact us in a pretty big way next year,” Williams said Tuesday.

At this point, he said there are still some unanswered questions as to how the universal school meals bill will affect some of the district’s funding in the future.

However, Williams said, “We know free meals are going to be good for kids, so we’re excited about that.”

According to enrollment data on the Minnesota Department of Education’s Minnesota Report Card website, over 56% of students enrolled at MPS were eligible for free or reduced-price meals in the 2022-23 school year.

That percentage translated to 1,532 students, the data said.

A bill that would make school lunches and breakfasts free for all students at participating Minnesota schools, regardless of family income, was signed by Gov. Tim Walz on Friday. Under the bill, the state will pick up the difference between federal reimbursements and the costs of meals, the Associated Press reported.

It’s estimated the program will cost the state about $400 million in a two-year period.

Williams said universal free meals could potentially have a financial impact for the Marshall district. For example, the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals can have an effect on a school’s Title I funding, he said. Title I is federal funding used for reading interventions for Marshall public and private school students in kindergarten through fourth grade, Williams said.

If families don’t need to apply for free or reduced-price meals, it’s not certain what kind of impact that would have on funding, Williams said.

“What the state is saying is, the first year is a ‘hold harmless’ year,” he said. He said it was his understanding that this year’s student data would be used for determining Title I funding in the 2023-24 school year. Beyond that point, less is known.

“A lot of discussions have started, but there’s a lot we don’t know yet,” Williams said.

What was more certain was that having access to a hot meal every day was good for students, Williams said. With factors like rising grocery costs putting pressure on families, free school meals could also be a help, he said.

Williams said MPS has received some questions about universal school meals so far — mainly questions about when the program starts. School meals won’t be free for all students until the next school year, he said.


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