SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Freshman Democrat Rep. Kadyn Wittman wants to stop charging children for school lunches.

That’s the purpose of her bill, HB 1221, titled “An Act to provide free school lunches for students.”

At heart, the bill is simple. It takes a current state statute which reads, “pupils and employed personnel of the school district or other agencies contracting with the Department of Education, who are fed through a school food services program may be charged for meals,” and guts most of it.

In its place would be a new statute, reading:

A school district may not charge a student for any meal issued through a school food services program may be charged for meals. A school district may charge employees of the district, or employed personnel of an agency that contracts with the Department of Education, for a meal issued through a school food services program. The Department of Education shall reimburse school districts for the cost of providing meals to students, that are not reimbursed through the National School Lunch Program, with monies appropriated in the General Appropriations Act.

HB 1221

Speaking with KELOLAND News on Friday, Wittman said this legislation is needed to ensure that all students have the nutrition needed to perform throughout the school day.

Wittman’s bill would require the South Dakota Department of Education (DOE) to reimburse school districts for the cost of lunch programs for students. “The state would be paying for this — and the Appropriations [Committee] would have to approve where we’re going to pull these funds from,” she said.

Even if the bill does not pass, Wittman thinks it provides an important step in starting the conversation around the issue.

“The reason that I brought this bill is because I think it’s a critical part of the conversation surrounding food insecurity, inflation and the grocery sales tax,” she said. “We’re talking about these low-income South Dakotans and how we can help them — but we also have to have this conversation about helping South Dakota’s kids.”

While there is currently a free and reduced lunch program which people of low income can qualify for, Wittman says there are a lot of cracks for families to fall through.

“I think you can make a strong argument that a lot of the individuals that would qualify for free and reduced lunch might not have access to the technology or know how to fill out that paperwork,” Wittman said.

One major impediment for some families which Wittman points out is the language barrier. If a child is multi-lingual, but the parents are not, “that can be a huge barrier for them if those documents are not translated into multiple languages,” she said.

HB 1221 will face its first test in the House Education Committee at 7:45 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 13. Wittman urges those with strong opinions to make their voices heard.

“I would highly recommend sending an email to the members of the House Education Committee sharing why this would impact your community, how it would help you and your family, and hopefully we can get some traction on this bill,” Wittman said.