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Republicans In Two State Legislatures Vote Against Subsidized Lunch And Milk Programs

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North Dakota Assistant House Minority Leader Corey Mock
North Dakota Assistant House Minority Leader Corey Mock

Republicans in the North Dakota and Vermont state Legislatures on Tuesday voted against subsidizing lunch or milk for school children.

The North Dakota legislation would pay for milk or juice during breaks for students in early childhood grades who already are eligible for free breakfasts and lunches. Republicans on the House Education Committee said they were against the program because it simply duplicates the breakfast program. In Vermont, the bill would close a loophole in the federal school lunch program by paying the remainder of costs not covered by the federal subsidy program, a price currently borne by students. GOP members on the Democratic-controlled House Education Committee said they do not oppose the bill, but rather have objections to how it was rolled out.

"We are talking about two million cartons of milk or juice over two years -- that was unacceptable to the committee," North Dakota House Assistant Minority Leader Corey Mock (D-Grand Forks), an Education Committee member, told The Huffington Post. "In another committee room, we were talking about giving tax breaks equivalent to 100 million cartons of milk over five years."

Mock was referencing ongoing discussions in the Legislature to award various tax deductions to out-of-state oil and energy companies working in the western part of the state. The proposal would cost the state $500,000 over the course of two years, Mock said. North Dakota has been experiencing record budget surpluses as a result of the oil boom.

North Dakota state Rep. Mike Schatz (R-New England), the Education Committee vice chairman, told HuffPost that he and other Republicans voted against the bill because students have the option of receiving milk from a federally subsidized breakfast program in schools. Children must currently pay for the second milk available at mid-morning breaks.

"It is a duplicate, it is already being done," Schatz said. "Why would you do it again? That is the reasoning."

In response, Mock pointed out that many students can't make it to school in time for the breakfast program as rural school districts are consolidated. Some students have to travel 100 miles to get to school in the morning, he said.

Under North Dakota House rules, the bill will receive a floor vote with a negative recommendation from the committee. Schatz is predicting defeat when the full House votes on the bill.

"Everyday, 6,000 Kindergarten to third-graders are going without milk or juice during the class milk break," Mock said.

In Vermont, the Democratic-controlled House Education Committee voted 7-4 along party lines to pass the school lunch bill, a priority for Gov. Peter Shumlin (D). House Education Committee Chairwoman Johannah Donovan (D-Burlington) told HuffPost that she questions why Republicans would vote against the bill. Under the terms of the Vermont bill, students who qualify for a reduced lunch would have the entire cost of their lunch covered when the state steps in to pay the remaining difference after federal subsidies. The total cost of the program is $350,000 a year, Donovan said.

"It was a very disappointing vote to me," Donovan said. "It was one I was blindsided by. We have worked cooperatively in the committee. It was kind of a sad day."

Donovan said that there was no opposition expressed in committee during the debate. Vermont House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton), an Education Committee member, told vtdigger.org that he and his colleagues do not oppose the lunch plan, but rather want to see the entire Shumlin education agenda at once -- instead of voting on pieces of it individually.

Donovan questioned the logic, saying that the Legislature does not work that way. She told HuffPost that while she expects the bill to pass, the committee vote could stop the bill from receiving its total funding from the House Appropriations Committee.

In North Dakota, Mock questioned the priorities of his colleagues.

"It's time we as a Legislature stop focusing on on one percent, and put more focus on the two-percent or skim or chocolate," he said.

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