The Senate Education Committee voted today to let schools opt out of the federal school lunch program.
The program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture pays schools to offer free or reduced-price lunches to students based on family income.
Sen. Rich Crandall said he has nothing against the program. But he said that current and pending rules could make it unduly burdensome. For example, he said there are situations where schools are charging students less for lunch than the subsidy they are getting from the federal government.
Crandall said, "They require that you raise your price 10 cents per year until your paid price gets closer to the federal reimbursement. So who gets hurt the worst under this mandate is the middle income, people who don't qualify for free and reduced but are just above it. You have to raise your school lunch price by 10 cents every year."
The vote concerns Ginny Hildebrand, Chief Executive of the Arizona Association of Food Banks.
"Arizona can't afford further compromise for our children's education," said Hildebrand. "Nor can they afford compromising their health. We know hungry kids have trouble learning. We know teachers that have hungry kids in their class have trouble meeting their teaching objectives."
Crandall agreed to add a requirement for districts opting out to first notify the parents. But he refused to mandate that schools which scrap the federal program offer something of their own instead.