CHARLESTON (AP) - After a fiery floor debate, with invocations of scripture, memories of leaner times and calls to action, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill to try and ensure that no school child is denied a meal because of cost.
"It is pathetic that in a country as wealthy as this, that we're talking about whether we should feed kids or not," a visibly emotional House Majority Leader Brent Boggs said. "Somebody better check your pulse and see if you're still living if these things don't touch you."
The House vote on Friday was 89-9 to pass the West Virginia Feed to Achieve Act.
The bill requires all schools to try to maximize school meal participation in order to take greater advantage of federal money for meals. It recommends programs such as "grab and go" breakfasts and eating breakfast in class as ways to increase participation.
It also sets up foundations in every county that are to collect private donations to fund expanded meal programs. If funds permit, schools could eventually use them to give free meals to every elementary school student. They could also use the funds to try to improve food quality, instituting farm-to-school programs or community gardening pilots.
Delegate Ray Canterbury spoke against the bill, repeating that there is no such thing as a free lunch and encouraging kids to develop personal responsibility.
"I think it would be a good idea if perhaps we had the kids work for their lunches: trash to be taken out, hallways to be swept, lawns to be mowed, make them earn it," the Greenbrier County Republican said. "If they miss a lunch or they miss a meal they might not, in that class that afternoon, learn to add, they may not learn to diagram a sentence, but they'll learn a more important lesson."
That provoked impassioned criticism from other lawmakers who said that the very least government can do is feed children.
"I'm offended that anybody in this body would dare say that a child has to work for their meal," said Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, her voice shaking with anger. "If they can't afford it, tell them to pick up some trash? Tell them wipe down the chalk board? I cannot believe that anybody in this body would say a first grader, a second grader, a third grader, a fourth grader , a fifth grader has to labor before they can eat."
Delegate Randy Smith, R-Preston, said his mom married his stepfather when he was nine years old, and his best memory was that after the wedding, his family always had groceries.
"We had food. I didn't go to school hungry anymore," Smith said.