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Homeschool advocates don’t feel left out of free meal programs | Local News

Multiple measures discussed at an Illinois Senate Appropriations hearing Wednesday seek to award taxpayer funded grants to schools throughout the state for school meal programs.

Kathryn Bernstein, program director at the Illinois Public Health Institute, said they want the General Assembly to fully fund the Healthy School Meals for All program. Bernstein said this would save families $1,200 per child per year and families won’t be at risk for accumulating school meal debt.

Bernstein said federal funds don’t cover all the cost of providing free breakfast and lunch.

“They’re having to [fill that gap] by selling some food to kids, they use local funding so the thought is that this will save taxpayers money by not having to buy food. The schools can do it more efficiently,” said Berstein.

Kirk Smith, the executive director of Illinois Christian Educators, said he doesn’t think it’s unfair that homeschoolers don’t get free lunch and breakfast. The program only extends to public school students.

“We have learned through things like ESAs, Educational Saving Accounts, some states are starting to include homeschooling with that. For us, in this present moment, we’re just concerned that when the government funds something, the government wants to control part or all if it can. We have made the choice to pay double and have our freedoms,” said Kirk.

The Illinois Home School Association said they are not being left out, they opted out when parents chose to homeschool.

“Homeschools are a private school option in Illinois. As such, we follow private school laws,” said Kathy Wentz of the Illinois Homeschool Association.

To fully fund the meals for all students program it would cost taxpayers $209 million.

Smith said funding this program will cost taxpayers more money in the long-run. He also pointed out the “food pyramid” came from a law that was signed to get kids to take in the most calories with the least amount of money.

“The powers that be came up with the pyramid and many nutritionists say, ‘that’s not a good way for our kids to eat.’ Even when the government tries to put their best foot forward, it tends to fail over time,” said Smith.

State Sen. Laura Ellman, D-Naperville, was the legislator who sponsored the bill that makes it to where the state could fund breakfast and lunch for all Illinois students, K-12. The bill passed last year pending appropriations.

“For $209 million it fully funds the program. Not only feeding all kids but eliminating stigma, debt and reliance on food pantries while supporting the health, well being and academic success of all students,” said Ellman. “As we strive to address food deserts and food insecurity in the state, let’s take serious consideration of this program as many other states have already done.”

Michigan and Minnesota have spent $160-200 million of taxpayer money on school meal programs like the Healthy School Meals for All program.

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