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:
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!