AUSTIN – The Texas House has revived a much-watched bill to keep schools from stigmatizing children while trying to collect parents’ lunch debts.
San Antonio Democratic Rep. Diego Bernal included language discouraging “lunch shaming” Saturday on a separate bill allowing surplus food to be donated at public schools.
It was unanimously approved after a similar attempt was defeated by conservatives Friday night.
If a child, K-12, doesn’t have money to pay for their lunch, that warm lunch is taken away and thrown into the trash, often in front of them. They are then given a cold bag lunch – which may be something like a sandwich or cheese crackers, a fruit and milk.
Dallas Democratic Rep. Helen Giddings had introduced a full bill banning that.
It went on a previous “uncontested” calendar for non-controversial legislation. But tea party-backed lawmakers blocked that entire calendar, protesting their own failed bills.
“To take the action that was taken on this floor today on this bill for hungry children is unconscionable,” Giddings declared. “Some of the children this bill intended to help are from families just above the poverty line. Some are from families where a wage earner has perhaps lost a job or some other family emergency… whatever the circumstance, we should not want these children to go without lunch.”
The purpose of Giddings’ bill was to provide a grace period for children who could not pay for their lunch. The school board would determine the time frame for the grace period and within that time, should meet with the child’s parent to determine whether he or she was eligible for free or reduced lunch. It also allows for a fund to be set up in which donations could be taken to pay for the children’s lunch.
“You and I and our families don’t face hunger, because we’re privileged. But remember, there but for the grace of God go I,” she reminded her colleagues. “In the end, it ain’t power, it ain’t privilege that defines us; it’s character, it’s kindness, it’s love. Members, we can do better for our children. They deserve better and personally believe that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those that harm our children. And again, I think we’ve harmed our children today. And I close by saying ‘God bless all of the children of Texas today. And I especially ask that He bless those children who are hungry.’”
Robyn H. Jimenez/The Dallas Examiner contributed to this report.