NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New Mexico has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the American West. Now, lawmakers are considering one way to give kids a boost by making sure they have enough food to focus on school.
New Mexico families pay more than $1,000 per year on school lunches. Now, Senate Bill 4 , introduced by Senators Michael Padilla and Leo Jaramillo, would give free meals to all students. Sen. Padilla said the goal is to help students focus on their studies.
“One in five children, 20% of our children go hungry all the time. They hear that grumbling in their stomach, they don’t really hear the alphabet or that math equation or that passage in English or whatever it may be,” said Sen. Padilla.
The bill would give $30 million in funding to schools across the state. Padilla said the money not only pays for free meals but also helps schools offer healthier options. One of the ways they hope to do that is by serving locally grown food.
Sen. Padilla added, “We’re incentivizing local school districts to partner with local farmers, ranchers, and other food producers in New Mexico. A lot of this money is going to remain in New Mexico.”
School districts will also be able to make kitchen improvements to produce what they’re calling “high-quality” meals. Additionally, the bill proposes allowing students more time to eat.
“For us, it’s a basic right for children to have the time to sit down and consume their meal which also prevents less food going in the trash,” said the Office of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham Food and Hunger Coordinator Kendal Chavez.
It also recommends schools hold recess before lunch. During Wednesday’s committee meeting, sponsors of the bill heard concerns about food waste, in case kids don’t like the new options. Another concern was whether the proposal is asking too much of schools. However, for the most part, lawmakers on the committee were in favor of the idea.
After making revisions, lawmakers will take a look at the bill again on Monday.
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Gov. Lujan Grisham already identified free lunch in schools as one of her priorities. Sen. Padilla said the Governor is calling for an additional $75 million to address food insecurity in the state. He added some of that money will go into play in his initiative.