COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Data shows one in seven kids in South Carolina is not properly nourished.
Advocates are calling on the state legislature to address that when they finalize the next state budget in the coming weeks.
There are temporary laws in the state budget, called provisos, that are in effect for as long as that budget is in effect: typically, one year.
One proviso under consideration in the next budget concerns access to school meals.
“We know that children learn better when they have a full stomach. They pay attention better,” Sen. Katrina Shealy, R – Lexington, said.
If enough students in a school or district qualify for free or reduced-cost meals, then the school or district can apply with the federal government for every student to get free meals through the USDA’s Community Eligibility Program.
“We have schools — about 108 at last count — that were qualified to participate in the Community Eligibility Program to receive the federal reimbursements, but they weren’t participating,” Meg Stanley, executive director of the nonprofit Wholespire, which promotes access to nutrition and healthy lifestyles in South Carolina.
This temporary law, which is included in the version of the budget passed in the Senate but not the House of Representatives, would require those schools and districts that are eligible for schoolwide and districtwide free meals participate in it next school year.
“One of the most effective ways to ensure that children have access to nutritious food is to make sure they have that access in the school,” Bryan Boroughs of the Greenville-based Institute for Child Success said.
The proviso would also ban schools from meal shaming.
That is the practice some schools and districts employ when they refuse to let students with meal debt participate in activities like field trips, or they give kids who qualify for free lunches a different meal than paying students.
“By really addressing these avenues of making certain that all the kids are receiving the same meals, they’re not labeled as being different,” Stanley said.
Sen. Shealy has also filed a bill that would permanently provide free school meals to every student in South Carolina public schools.
That bill will not pass this year, with the legislative session ending next week. But Shealy said she will keep pushing for it next year.
Last year, a new law went into effect that prohibits South Carolina schools from using debt collectors to recoup money from families who had meal debts.
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