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Bill proposed to extend free lunches to middle school students in need

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WIDEFIELD -

There's a new bill making its way through the state Senate that would allow more low income students to get free lunch at school.

Right now, current law only provides free lunches for kids up to 5th grade but a new bill just introduced would expand the program for middle schoolers too. 

Some parents say this would be a huge relief.

"You get used to that money and then all the sudden, it's taken away," Jeff Adams, a parent said.

Adams now pays $2 a week on the reduced lunch plan for his 6th grade daughter.

"It takes away some of the money that you have that goes toward bills and towards medical and stuff like that, so you have to come up with extra to dish out," he said.

But it wasn't always this way.

"She was receiving free lunches then came up here and we had to pay half," he said.

His daughter received free lunches since kindergarten thanks to the state's Lunch Protection Act passed in 2008 that allows any student who qualifies for the federal free or reduced lunch program to get it for free.

"That does add up, and some of our families are on tight budgets and while two dollars may not sound like a lot to one family, it is a lot to another family," Samantha Briggs, Director of Communications for Widefield School District 3.

And Adams isn't alone.

45 percent of the middle school students alone in District 3 are already on the free or reduced lunch program.

"It is a high number so we do have a lot of families in need and truly, we wish we could feed all students for free," Briggs said. "We think the more children we can feed, the better."

The bill has bipartisan support. It was introduced by a fiscally conservative republican senator from Colorado Springs. 

"Students who have school lunch perform better, have fewer discipline problems and their attendance rates are higher and are completing school for the day," State Sen. Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs) said.

State Senator Bob Gardner says it would cost about half a million in taxes each year.

"We do have that money this year, that's one of the reasons why we're extending up to the 8th grade," he said. "There are a lot of priorities, it will have to compete with those priorities."

In the end, providing some relief for parents like Adams and more brain food for kids in need.

"Well that helps us out quite a bit since we're on a limited income instead of having to worry about coming up with the money for our lunches," Adams said.

The bill has already made its way through the Senate Education Committee. 

It will head to the Appropriations Committee next, to see if there is room for this in our state budget against other priorities.

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