State Legislators vote down proposal to mandate school breakfast programs

State officials say more than 90 thousand Montana children go hungry every week. A committee of Montana lawmakers is looking at ways to address the problem of child hunger.

A proposal to mandate school breakfasts was voted down Monday.

The 2011 State Legislature charged the Children, Families, Health and Human Services Interim Committee with exploring the issue of child hunger. Legislative staffers compiled reports of than a half-dozen ideas dealing not only with getting kids more food, but healthy foods. Several of the reports detail programs of bring more nutritious food to food banks or expand the use of food stamps at places like farmers markets.

But Montana Food Bank Network board member Minkie Medora said the best option is a pretty specific one—school breakfast.

“This one item will give you the biggest bang for the buck for what you put into it,” she said.

Medora hoped the committee would look into legislation making sure every Montana child has breakfast every morning they come to school.

“This one action alone will bring immediate results to so many children in the state and make sure that children come to school prepared to learn and improve the quality of their nutrition and health,” Medora said.

Ninety-five Montana schools with school lunch programs currently do not have breakfast options. Medora thinks the legislature should look at mandating school breakfast programs. She said other states have provided one-time grant funds for schools to start up programs.

Committee Chairman Republican Senator Jason Priest said it’s tough for him to consider a mandate. He said incentives to create breakfast programs already exist in a voluntary way for Montana schools.

“So presumably they’ve already decided the need isn’t right for them or that the administrative burdens are too high or there’s some other challenge for them to implement them. So for us to come in at the state level and say we disagree with your local decision is something I wouldn’t support,” Priest said.

Several democratic members of the committee did express support for the idea of mandating school breakfasts. But the proposal was killed in committee Monday, failing on a tie vote.

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