A South Dakota bill aimed at feeding hungry school kids was killed by the state House’s education committee by a single vote.
The bill, H.B. 1042, would have directed state funding to provide free lunches for food-insecure kids who currently only get them at a reduced price. It failed after the House Education Committee voted 8-7 on Monday against it, Dakota News Now reported.
State Rep. Kadyn Wittman (D-Sioux Falls) introduced the bill, which would have cost the state approximately $578,000 per year, and her efforts won support from numerous education and health groups, the Argus Leader reported. Several conservative lawmakers opposed the bill because of its cost.
“I can’t think of anything more core to education than children having fully developed brains and being able to focus in their schools,” Wittman said during testimony before Monday’s vote. “If we want South Dakota to pull ahead in terms of test scores, absenteeism rates and having better health outcomes for our kids, I can’t think of a better investment.”
South Dakota’s finance commissioner, Jim Terwilliger, said in his own testimony that while the bill is “well-intentioned,” there is no such thing as “free lunch.”
”If we could all vote with our hearts, I know that we would vote to support feeding our children,” Terwilliger said. “But there is a cost to these programs at the end of the day.”
Though Rep. Roger DeGroot (R-Brookings) motioned to move the bill to the House Appropriations committee, Rep. Phil Jensen (R-Rapid City) instead made a substitute motion to kill the bill entirely, which passed by a single vote.
Wittman introduced similar legislation last year that would have had South Dakota join eight other states in providing universal free meals to all public school kids, regardless of income level. That bill was defeated 14-1.
Following Monday’s failed vote, Wittman defended her bill, saying the government should help meet basic needs for children like feeding them.
“It is my belief that because children are in the care of the government while attending public schools, the government should be responsible for meeting basic needs — one of which is food,” Wittman said.