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Helmut Schmidt, Published March 27 2013

In turnaround move, North Dakota Senate amends K-12 funding bill to provide milk for low-income students

BISMARCK – An amendment to the K-12 education funding bill in the state Senate adds enough money to pay for daily milk or juice breaks for schoolchildren from low-income families statewide, Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, said Wednesday.

Flakoll, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the amendment to HB 1319 doubles the state’s contribution to the federal government’s free- and reduced-lunch program.

“For those school districts that have a milk break, they can then use these dollars to pay for these children from low-income families” to have milk or juice, or for other needs, he said. “We continue to provide local control.”

The Fargo School District would get about $1.4 million in the next biennium – about $225 per child who qualifies for the free- and reduced-lunch program – if the amendment survives when the bill becomes law, Flakoll said. The Belcourt School District would get about $570,000, he said.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” said Brock Lietz, business manager for the Fargo School District.

Flakoll said he’s confident the measure will pass as part of HB 1319. He’s talked to fellow senators and members of the House and received good feedback.

“No child needs to go without milk who wants it,” he said.

The amendment is a turnaround from early February, when a bill sponsored by Rep. Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, was defeated by a more than 2-1 margin in the House.

Boschee’s bill called for providing $1.2 million to pay for a daily milk or juice break for low-income students in kindergarten through grade three.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture used to pay for mid-morning milk and for milk with the hot lunch program. Several years ago, USDA gave schools the choice of milk with a breakfast program, or the milk break. Most schools opted for milk with breakfast and lunch, leaving milk breaks as an option for families to pay for.

In the Fargo-Moorhead area, school districts have relied on donations from foundations or church and civic groups to pay the cost of milk for children whose families could not otherwise afford it.

Milk for kindergarteners in Moorhead is provided free.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583