'Lunch shaming' bill aims to give all kids access to school meals regardless of finances

MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) -- Proposed legislation in the State Assembly would make sure every child gets access to school breakfast and lunch programs even if their parents cannot pay for it.

Lawmakers say "lunch shaming" is a growing problem that causes kids to hungry as they get caught in the middle of a fight between their parents and the school district over the lunch account balance.

A mom of two from suburban Milwaukee, Katie Gritzmacher shared how lunch shaming impacted her family at an Assembly Committee on Education public hearing.

"Two years ago my son was 50 cents short, and his lunch was taken away from him, his food was thrown away, and he was told to go ask his friends for lunch," said Gritzmacher.

She says it takes lunch accounts dropping just a few cents into the red for some school officials to deny students food.

"Money was put into our account in the morning, and it was not posted to the lunch account by lunchtime. It was a technical error," said Gritzmacher. "These kids were punished for a technical error."

Regardless of why the money is not in the lunch account, Assembly Bill 84 wants to make sure all children have access to a meal during school hours.

"In the State of Wisconsin, we have 421 school districts, and each of them has their own policy," said Rep. Gary Tauchen, (R- Bonduel).

The bipartisan legislation sets state requirements for all schools that receive state aid for meal programs. Not only would the school be responsible for serving quality meals to all students, officials would not be able to publicly identify students with outstanding debt, make those students work for or throw away meals, or talk with those students about what their parents or guardians owe.

"If people fall behind -- and we don't know what the situation is for each family -- we want to make sure that they're well-fed and they have an ability to learn," said Tauchen.

The bill is still in the committee stage. Tauchen says there are amendments being drafted, but he feels confident the legislation will have enough support to pass.

School districts across the state have mixed reactions to the legislation. Concerns include unknowns about the financial burden it will have on individual districts and the removal of incentives for parents and guardians to pay lunch balances.

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