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Legacy Fund Could Provide Lunches for All ND Kids

The group Lunch Aid says $58 million is the potential price tag for universal lunches in North Dakota's K-12 schools. (Africa Studio/Adobe Stock)
The group Lunch Aid says $58 million is the potential price tag for universal lunches in North Dakota's K-12 schools. (Africa Studio/Adobe Stock)
November 15, 2019

Bismarck, N.D. – North Dakota's Legacy Fund has topped $6.3 billion – and one suggestion is that a fraction of that money could provide lunch for all the state's public school students.

Student lunch debt for families of kids K-12 is becoming a problem. In Fargo Public Schools, for instance, the debt was about $30,000 this year, and families who don't pay off their debt have been turned over to collections.

Jason Boynton, an associate professor of mathematics North Dakota State University who presented the idea to lawmakers, says schools can even refer parents to child services. He thinks meals should be a normal school service.

"In the same way that public school districts provide textbooks and desks, we think that nutrition should also be provided,” says Boynton. “Books and desks are needed to learn; we think that nutrition is also a very critical part of learning."

There are 111,000 students in North Dakota public schools. According to Boynton and the group Lunch Aid, universal lunch would cost the state $58 million dollars a year and save families about $525 dollars per child.

Approved in 2010, the Legacy Fund deposits 30% of monthly oil-tax revenue into a savings account that can only be tapped with a two-thirds majority vote by the state House and Senate.

The income threshold for families to receive free or reduced-price lunches in North Dakota is $48,000 a year, and roughly 18,000 students qualify. But Boynton notes the estimated income needed to pay for basics in the state is $64,000.

Boynton says families that fall into the gap between $48,000 and $64,000 are in a tough spot.

"Those are the people that really are one sort of emergency away from not being able to afford a lunch,” says Boynton. “One broken furnace away, one medical accident away – to have to make a tough decision as to whether or not they can pay for lunch."

He notes if the state set aside enough money with 10% interest, the interest could fund free school lunches forever. He adds if lawmakers don't approve the proposal, Lunch Aid will consider bringing the matter to residents, most likely through a ballot initiative.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND