ST. PAUL (LEARFIELD) — One of the most prominent features of Governor Tim Walz’s budget proposal for education and families — free school breakfast and lunch for all students, regardless of income — cleared its first Minnesota Senate committee Wednesday on a unanimous voice vote.  Lori Smith, a cook at a Saint Cloud school, told lawmakers, “I know the kids that come through my lunch line.  I know those that don’t get enough to eat at home and, even though I’m not supposed to, those kids get just a little bit more from me.   On the weekends I make sure that hungry kids go home with backpacks of food.”  

Senator Jim Abeler notes free school breakfast and lunch is estimated to cost the state about 185 million dollars a year.  And the Republican from Anoka used the opportunity to take a political shot at the Walz administration. Senator Abeler said, “If  there’s ever any other big pot of food money coming back to us again, like Feeding our Futures, we should maybe give it to the school districts or the counties, and maybe there’ll be less headline news.” 

Critics say the state Education Department didn’t act quickly enough to stop 200-plus million dollars of fraud in the Feeding our Future program.  Walz administration officials respond they tipped-off the FBI, resulting in dozens of federal indictments.