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Spokane legislator wants all kids to have free school meals

Photo by Lauren Paterson/Northwest Public Broadcasting

Spokane state Representative Marcus Riccelli is proposing that all K-12 students in Washington have the chance to eat school meals for free.

Eight states (California, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont, Michigan, and Massachusetts) have already taken this step as a strategy to improve student achievement, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

Riccelli says the Washington state school superintendent’s office estimates the cost would be $110 million a year, which he considers a good investment.

“What we see is better performance, reduced disruptions in the classroom. It has so many benefits. I think the trade off is really good," he said.

"My first goal is to ensure that we have access to universal meals, but then we’re going to work, like we’ve done in Spokane schools, to make them healthier, locally sourced, more nutritious, scratch and modified scratch cooking, making it a win for local growers," he said.

Riccelli’s legislation is related to a bill approved last year. That requires schools that have 40% or more of students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals to offer free lunch and breakfast to all students, regardless of family income.

A House committee yesterday [Thursday] heard testimony on Riccelli’s bill. Nearly all supported the idea.

“Free breakfast is a motivation for many of them to arrive on time, simply to get a meal," said Rebecca Mathews, a middle school teacher in the Bethel School District. “Instead of having to worry about having money on their accounts, students can relax, eat nutritious foods and get back to the business of learning.”

Riccelli’s bill is scheduled to get a House committee vote on Thursday.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.