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No food for you: Conservatives vote against providing lunch to students with a meal debt

Republicans voted 4-2 to defeat The Tennessee Hunger-Free Students Act—a bill with three measures to ensure students can eat school lunches and not be punished when parents fail to pay meal fees or a meal debt.

The bill sponsor Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, District 55, said the bill would stop school employees from throwing away a served meal if the student could not pay and would also prohibit schools from punishing or shaming students who accumulated a meal debt.

“We certainly do not want to have a child stigmatized or punished in any way for simply incurring a lunch debt at no fault of their own,” Clemmons said. “We have had incidents in recent years in Tennessee where students have been treated adversely or stigmatized in some manner. Whether it’s placed or made to eat in the principal’s office and eat a peanut butter sandwich by themselves simply because they had a lunch debt or being prevented from going on field trips because of a lunch debt.

“We want to prevent these types of things… this is no fault of the child,” Clemmons said.

House Bill 0827 would also require schools to contact a guardian after a student accumulates a debt of five meals or more.

The K-12 Education Subcommittee heard the bill March 6. You can watch the full presentation here.

Scenes from the K-12 Subcommittee meeting on March 6.

Republicans seem supportive, but then…
Both Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, District 40, and Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, District 83, spoke seemingly in support of children eating school lunches despite a meal debt.

“Any adult who would shame a child over an issue like this—shame on them,” said Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, District 83. But then he used his remaining time to fixate on the cost of school lunches. A point of contention that was not resolved.

The fiscal note included on the original version bill, which White read aloud, said local school districts would lose an unknown amount of revenue on meal debts left unrecovered, but “Otherwise, the fiscal impact of the legislation is considered not significant.”

Both Weaver and White ultimately voted against the bill—possibly denying lunch to some students who incurred a meal debt. Shame indeed.

How they voted: K-12 Education Subcommittee, March 6;

Representatives voting Aye:
Rep. Kirk Haston, R-Lobelville, District 72
Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, District 41

Representatives voting No against the bill:
Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, District 33
Rep. Iris Rudder, R-Winchester, District 39
Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, District 40
Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, District 83




We’ve had incidents here in Tennessee