Baton Rouge Representative Pat Smith’s legislation that would prevent schools from taking lunches away from students with unpaid school debts is moving to the House floor. Smith says her legislation would prevent schools from publicly rejecting lunches for students, and stop them from “shaming” kids whose parents are either negligent or unable to afford the meals.

“Many children have been denied the opportunity to have a lunch because they have not paid a bill.”

Smith says the bill was inspired by heartbreaking stories from her constituent’s children.

“There have been children that we understand In some of our schools who may have made it all the way with their trays to the lunch lady, found out they had a debt, and had the lunch tray taken away from them.”

Louisiana Association of Educators President Debbie Meaux came out in support of the bill. She says if students are hungry, they can’t learn.

“If even one child in our school community is denied food or humiliated because of a parent’s negligence, then we need to do something.”

But there were some concerns about the bill being an unfunded mandate for school districts that would require them to feed hungry children without a guarantee of repayment. Louisiana School Board Association Executive Director Scott Richard says school lunches don’t grow on trees.

“There’s still a cost to produce meals whether the community eligibility program is in place or not. So there’s still a cost associated, nothing is free.”

The bill was passed 7-4 and has a floor hearing set for Wednesday.