GAINESVILLE, Va. - A mother in Prince William County is pushing for a statewide change in how school districts address students who don't have money for lunch.
In Prince William County, every student receives the same options for lunch whether they can pay or not, but that isn’t the case across the state.
Some districts enable what's known as “lunch-shaming,” including providing students who can't pay for lunch with an alternative meal option or worse, publicly identifying the student.
“HB1477 is with the Education Committee,” Adelle Settle, the founder of Settle the Debt, explained. “It was referred today to the Sub Committee No. 1 and it's going to be heard soon and we'll have a chance to go testify about why feeding kids is really important.”
Settle has raised more than $20,000 via a GoFundMe account to help cover the cost incurred by families who have not paid lunch bills in Prince William County.
Last school year alone, the county had more than $300,000 in uncollected lunch fees and the district is on track to match that this year.
Settle brought the concern to newly elected Delegate Danica Roem who introduced Settle's bill, which would require every school district across the state to provide students with a complete breakfast and lunch each day and prohibit lunch workers from throwing away meals for students who can't afford them.
The bill would also prohibit requiring a student to do work or other chores for the meal.
“I haven't received any pushback in Richmond regarding cost or anything else, but this is also one of those things that if you're going to argue cost, we're talking about feeding our kids, we're talking about making sure that everyone has breakfast and everyone has lunch,” Roem said. “Crossover is coming up in a little over two weeks so we’ll have just a little over two weeks to get this thing through the House of Delegates. It’s going to have to go through the committee process before it gets to the House floor. I’m working as hard as I can right now to line up as many supporters for the legislation.”
The new proposed legislation would also encourage districts to erase meal debts at the end of the school year. A spokesperson for Prince William County Public Schools said it would be wonderful to offer every student a free lunch meal, but unless the state pays for it the district would have to take $25 million away from an already limited budget.