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) 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.
Quite often, the students who accumulate meal debt come from families who are in debt themselves. In fact, in 2015 a study showed that 80% of Americans are caught up in the chains of debt. Unfortunately, not many of these families will be aware of debt settlement and therefore they will continue to struggle. These students shouldn’t be punished or shamed.
“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. We have had incidents in recent years in Tennessee where students have been treated adversely or stigmatized in some manner. Whether it’s being 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.”
House Bill 0827 would also have required schools to contact a guardian after a student accumulates a debt of five meals or more.
Here’s a clip of the vote:
Republicans Seemed Supportive, But Then…
Both Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, District 40 (last seen defending her support for the bust of the KKK Grand Wizard bust in the capitol by saying “some of my best friends are black”) and Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, District 83, spoke seemingly in support of children eating school lunches despite a meal debt… but would eventually go on to vote it down.
Rep. White said:
“Any adult who would shame a child over an issue like this-shame on them.”
But then he used his remaining time to fixate on the unspecified cost of school lunches.
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.”
Rep. Iris Rudder spoke up as she voted, saying she was inclined to vote yes but decided at the last minute that she didn’t understand the bill.
Reps. Weaver, White, and Rudder ultimately voted against the bill-possibly denying lunch to some students who incurred a meal debt.
It should be noted that the very same day this bill was voted down for reasons of fiscal responsibility the Tennessean broke a story that under Speaker Glen Casada taxpayers have paid $7 Million more to run the TN House, and that his Chief of Staff is being paid $200,000 per year – a $130,000 raise from last year.
It should also be noted that today Rep. Weaver today gave a passionate speech in favor of the heartbeat bill HB 0077 and adamantly insisted we do everything in our power to protect the sanctity of life – but apparently that doesn’t extend to children of school age.
Rep. Kirk Haston, a coach and teacher out of Lobelville, was the only Republican to vote in favor of the bill.
Rep. John Ray Clemmons, who is running for mayor of Nashville had this to say to The Holler about the failure of his bill:
“With this legislation, we intended to protect children from stigmatization and bullying as a result of incurring a lunch debt. As we all know, incurring a lunch debt at school is no fault of a child and is often not the fault of a parent who is doing the best they can to provide for their child. Under no scenario should a child should be treated differently or adversely or discriminated against in any way if they’ve incurred a meal debt in our state. This legislation would have protected our children. I am disappointed that a few Republicans killed what should have been a non-partisan piece of legislation to protect innocent children.”
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