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HB 1042: Wittman Wants State to Cover School Meals for Reduce-Price-Qualifying Students

While some Republicans prance around with their pistols preaching the nonsensical and micropenily compensatory fiction that more guns will make schools safer, a few sensible members of the Republican caucus are admirably cosponsoring Representative Kadyn Wittman’s (D-15/Sioux Falls) plan to cover the cost of school meals for more low-income students.

House Bill 1042 is not a repeat of Representative Wittman’s 2023 HB 1221, which would have put all K-12 school meals on the state’s tab. Even with enough surplus cash on hand to cover that everybody-eats plan for 21 years, House Republicans killed that nutritionally and educationally sound plan in committee. Evidently not confident that the Republican majority has grown any more moral spine or sense in the past eleven months, Rep. Wittman is offering HB 1042 as a first-step compromise. Rather than covering all school meals, HB 1042 would cover the cost of meals for every student who qualifies for free or reduced-price school meals. Families making 130% or less of the poverty line currently qualify for free school chow; HB 1042 would cover meals for students whose families make between 130% and 185% of the poverty line, at a tiny, tiny cost of less than $600,000 a year.

Expect Secretary of Education Joe Graves to testify against HB 1042 in committee and urge kids to be stoic about their hunger and poverty. But beyond the obvious morality of feeding poor and hungry children, Rep. Wittman touts the practical benefits HB 1042 would bring to those low-income kids:

Rep. Kadyn Wittman, tweet, 2024.01.04
Rep. Kadyn Wittman, tweet, 2024.01.04.

Cosponsors of Wittman’s 2023 school-meal bill were all Democrats; with HB 1042, Wittman has recruited Republican Representatives David Kull (R-2/Brandon) and Tyler Tordsen (R-14/Sioux Falls) to co-sponsor in the House and Republican Senator Michael Rohl (R0-1/Aberdeen) to prime-sponsor in the Senate.

HB 1042 does not include an emergency clause, so it would not expand South Dakota’s free school meals until the beginning of the 2024–2025 school year. But we have strong enough revenues that we could slap an emergency clause on this bill and fund school meals for those reduced-price kids right now. Heck, Governor Noem has probably already saved us the price of most of those meals for the rest of this school year by not hiring a new chief of staff—the last one, Mark Miller, was making $190,953.92 a year when he left last June. The now unused chief of staff salary could pay for a whole trimester of HB 1042 meals!


  1. Frank Kloucek 2024-01-07 12:38

    This is top tier legislation. Good job Rep Wittman

  2. Eve Fisher 2024-01-07 12:38

    I so hope this passes: the trouble is, the Republicans seem to believe that hungry kids should indeed bear the (true or imagined) sins of their parents unto the fifth generation, and thus they should just go hungry. Come on, folks, PASS IT!

  3. grudznick 2024-01-07 15:46

    Oh oh. This law bill now has Mr. Kloucek’s endorsement, which is usually a kiss of death. Back in the day, when no Kloucek bills survived and even the leadership in the Democrat party would keep his name off a law bill sponsorship, any law bill with Mr. Kloucek’s “cursing” was just killed. Killed for the sake of killing it.

    Ms. Wittman is very new and very young. But she is learning. Perhaps she can save this with some help from saner (R)s.

  4. larry kurtz 2024-01-07 16:04

    It is a hopeful development that newly elected Democrats are able to connect with veterans of South Dakota’s child hating legislature.

  5. larry kurtz 2024-01-07 16:09

    Today’s oxymoron: saner (R)s.

  6. jakc 2024-01-07 18:53

    Perhaps schools could cut a deal with Governor Noem to have the state pay for lunches if the schools agree to use SD-themed lunch trays (perhaps prisoners could make them in lieu of license plates). Or perhaps free lunches for students who wear SD-themed shirts to school. Seems like $5 million would go a long way here.

  7. grudznick 2024-01-07 18:58

    Know who should feed the kids?

    The parents of the kids. They have a responsibility from which we must not absolve them. They need to get out there and work harder, and make money to provide for the progeny they have brought forth.

    There are no free lunches.

  8. Todd Epp 2024-01-07 19:05

    The problem with Sen. Frank was that he had too good of ideas that actually helped people.

  9. Donald Pay 2024-01-07 20:28

    Kloucek didn’t go to Pierre to serve the elitists and the special interests, Grudz. It’s pretty easy to pass bills when you’re just a puppet of the Pierre regime. Kloucek often took up the issues that people wanted discussed, but had no one else who would stand up for them because they couldn’t afford to pay off off the people you think are good legislators.

    And free lunch? You know there’s a free lunch for legislators every day the legislature is in session.

  10. grudznick 2024-01-07 20:43

    The Messrs. Epp and Pay know darned well that Mr. Kloucek was the most ineffective in the legislatures, ever, and the “free” lunches every day are paid for by hard earned corporate dollars, who probably don’t expect much in return.

    Mr. Kloucek ate heartily of those lunches, and still brings dry pastries to the sessions to try to sway the legislatures to pay attention to him. They gobble the treats, and then move on without noticing Mr. Kloucek at all.

  11. Frank Kloucek 2024-01-07 21:34

    No pun intended but push yourself away from the biscuits and gravy and do get involved and do something positive instead of always running down people:

    1. Come to Pierre to lobby for Rep Wittmans outstanding legislation!

    2 Write some nice checks {hopefully $1000 each} to the following: your local food pantry, Feeding South Dakota, Bread for the world and finally drop off a $1000 Check or debit card to provide free lunches for students at your local public school system. It will be money well spent and you will feel good about yourself. Thank you in advance for your consideration!

  12. jakc 2024-01-07 21:59

    If by ineffective you mean unable to persuade SD legislators to do the right thing, that’s really more on them.

    As for no free lunches, I have no problem with some of my property taxes being used to feed school kids

  13. Donald Pay 2024-01-07 22:16

    You know very well, Grudz, the Legislature could very easily ban the free lunches for themselves, if they really believed your “no such thing as a free lunch” b.s., I would think they might put their money down where their mouth is They haven’t in 40 years, but they have the nerve to yammer that little bromide of yours when they don’t want kids to have a little bit of sustenance at lunchtime. I don’t know when the legislative free lunches began, but it’s been over 40 years, at least. That’s a lot of years the elitists and lobbyists have been stuffing food down the legislator’s gullets. Maybe it’s time for the fat cats pony money for the kids, and let the legislators feed themselves.

  14. Donald Pay 2024-01-07 22:21

    And free lunches isn’t the end of it. They often get free breakfast, free cocktails and free dinner, too. I mean the corruption is rampant, but not a word from you about that.

  15. DaveFN 2024-01-07 23:29

    Donald Pay

    As grudz points out, none of it comes free. Someone pays for it at some level.

    There’s always a price to pay, Pay.

  16. Bob Newland 2024-01-08 05:44

    Once more, I express my disheartened amazement that real people respond to the thing which calls itself Grudznick as if it were human and deserving of aught but indifference.

  17. Donald Pay 2024-01-08 08:31

    DaveFN, Of course food isn’t free, and preparing food isn’t free…unless you are a legislator. Then it’s free to them. And it’s free times 2 because they get a free per diem from the taxpayers to pay for their free lunch, plus they get another free lunch and sometimes breakfast and dinner, too, paid for by the elite lobbyists. Double free lunch for them. Zero free lunch for the kids. Yep, someone pays for it. That’s you and me. And if you ask me, I want the food I’m paying for to go to kids, not the freeloading legislators.

  18. David Bergan 2024-01-08 09:37

    Hi Cory!

    How does this bill solve the essential problem in the status quo, namely that forms aren’t getting filled out to indicate that a child is eligible for free or reduced priced meals?

    Kind regards,

  19. O 2024-01-08 10:24

    I would argue that along with lights, heat, water, bathroom facilities, and teachers, meals are part of the essential services provided to students, in loco parentis, by the district and paid through property and state taxes. Grudznick’s argument could just apply as easily to any other element provided by the district as “parent’s responsibility” — why provide toilet paper? — but the very nature of a FREE public education ought to subsume all the elements of cost for a student.

    Schools are community and community takes care of its members — especially the most needy of those members. The crass selfishness of Americans needs to be called to question over each fundamental example like school lunch.

  20. O 2024-01-08 10:25

    It is well past time that the richest nation on earth start acting like it.

  21. Richard Schriever 2024-01-08 11:18

    grudz, Cancel your meals on wheels, send back your SS and/or pension checks and get back to work.

  22. WillyNilly 2024-01-08 16:01

    I think that perhaps the Legislature should hire Grudz to stand at the front of the line in school cafeterias and tell children that their parents have failed them by choosing to live in a solid Republican red state. He should let them know that since their parents have failed to provide, the red state Legislature and Governor also has no plans to provide funds for food for them today or tomorrow or ever. Grudz has what it takes to look into the eyes of a hungry child and send them away. Perhaps if the Gov has time, she will stand with him.

  23. David Bergan 2024-01-08 16:19

    “Each school district shall ensure that, annually, the parent or legal guardian of any student who is enrolled in the district and potentially eligible for free or reduced price meals, completes and submits a school meal application.”

    My understanding is that the problem isn’t that the current federal free and reduced lunch program is under-funded. The problem is that the children who need a free/reduced lunch are neither bringing in payment for their meals nor bringing in a form that would allow the school lunch program to invoice the government.

    HB1042 also requires an annual application for each the student in that same situation, so I don’t see how this will solve the problem.

    Kind regards,

  24. Arlo Blundt 2024-01-08 18:23

    Yes David, that’s one of the problems in the dynamic of parental neglect that is a lot more widespread than people believe. Parental neglect includes refusing to seek a solution to the problems brought about by poverty, under employment, unemployment or just plain social inadequacy. Once again, children are the victims. Grudznick believes his role in this problem is to be a spectator.

  25. grudznick 2024-01-08 20:13

    Mr. Nilly, I would hand out peanut butter sandwiches, made by my own hand, and dixie cups that could be filled at the water fountain. No child whose parents are failing to provide or pay their bills would go hungry.

  26. WillyNilly 2024-01-11 11:54

    Grudz, bread and water with a spoonful of peanut butter made by your own hand only punishes a child. It doesn’t solve the root cause of living in a bloody red state with an indifferent legislature in charge. Children need to eat several times daily. Their growing minds and bodies need healthy calories to learn while they’re in class. They should have all they need to become good citizens.

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