SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — School lunch debt is a growing problem around the country with states racking up millions of dollars in meal debt. The Midwest has a state with the lowest meal debt in the country however the millions of dollars states still owe is why one state representative is working on a few bills that would help South Dakota families.

Democrat Kadyn Wittman, a state representative for District 15 in Sioux Falls, is making it her mission to reduce the cost of school lunches for families.

“I knew that was something I really wanted to try and move the needle on a little bit. Last year was my first session, I’m a freshman legislator, and I decided to go big or go home. I brought a bill that would have made all K through 12 public schools in South Dakota have free school lunch,” said Wittman.

Her bill was estimated to cost 33 million dollars and was killed in February.
This coming January she plans to introduce new legislation, which would have a similar impact.

“I think the ROI on free school lunches is so much more than just the monetary aspect of it, it’s creating a healthier community,” said Wittman.

According to the Education Data Initiative 2023 report, South Dakota has nearly 35,000 food-insecure children and about $6.3 million in school meal debt. However, it isn’t the only state that’s struggling. Minnesota schools owe more than $29 million. North Dakota, owes three million, which has the lowest amount of meal debt in the country.

Wittman recently formed a School Lunch Coalition that will weigh in on two different bills as they go through their final edits.

“We are going to debate the merits of both bills among our coalition, and we’re going to decide which one we feel might have the best chance that we can rally the community around,” said Wittman. “We’ll start to be more public with that language with what that looks like and how interested individuals can get involved in moving this forward.”

The School Lunch Coalition will meet again next month to discuss the future of the two bills.
Currently, families of four that make $39,000 dollars or less a year can qualify for the National School Lunch Program which provides free and reduced-price lunches.

Other studies done by the School Nutrition Association report and are expected to conduct another this coming November. They also urge Congress to keep some of the benefits introduced during the Keep Kids Fed Act that was approved last year which reimbursed a portion of the cost of school lunches.

To see if you can receive school lunch aid click here.