Minnesota's program to provide free school breakfasts and lunches to all students regardless of income is costing the state more than expected because of a jump in demand.
When Democratic Gov. Tim Walz signed the legislation last spring, advocates said the free meals would ease stresses on parents and help reduce childhood poverty while lifting the stigma on kids who rely on them. Thousands of schoolchildren who didn't previously qualify have been getting the free meals since Minnesota this fall became the country's fourth state to offer universal free school meals. The number has since grown to at least eight.
Republican lawmakers objected to the program as it moved through the Legislature, saying it was a poor use of taxpayer dollars to subsidize meals for students whose parents could afford them. Now, with costs rising faster than expected - $81 million more over the next two years and $95 million in the two years after that - some question whether the state can afford the ongoing commitment, Minnesota Public Radio reported Wednesday.