Concerns over future funding commitments and the existence of federal programs led House lawmakers to reject a proposal for expanding access to free lunches in South Dakota’s public schools.
The bipartisan proposal, carried by Democrat Kadyn Wittman of Sioux Falls, was defeated by one vote in the House Education Committee, with lawmakers choosing to reject the legislation rather than subject it to further scrutiny in the chamber’s Appropriation Committee.
The proposed legislation aimed to provide free lunches to those currently eligible for reduced ones due to household incomes between $25,636 and $36,482, or up to 185% above the federal poverty line.
Wittman emphasized the importance of well-nourished children for educational success and better health outcomes.
The bill’s lone opposition came from Bureau of Finance and Management Commissioner Jim Terwilliger, who raised fiscal concerns about the bill’s nearly $600k cost.
The 2024 version of the bill was a massively scaled back version of a 2023 bill that Wittman brought – which only received one vote in the same committee. If passed, that bill would have given free school lunches to every South Dakota student, regardless of income.
Freshman District 8 lawmaker from District 8, Tim Reisch (Rysh) expressed concerns about allotting state money to a place where federal dollars are already flowing.
Wittman told the South Dakota Broadcasters Association after the hearing that she does not intend to “smoke out” her bill despite its one vote margin. That is a legislative maneuver that would have allowed the bill to potentially be debated on the floor, despite its defeat in committee.Rather, the Sioux Falls lawmaker says that she intends to keep the conversation on free lunches going in future legislative sessions.