Free school meals bill might cost districts down the road

Minnesota’s new Free School Meals program that took effect July 1 could impact the compensatory revenue districts receive in the future.

Compensatory revenue, funding intended to help students who are “under-prepared to learn” and who perform below academic standards for their age group, will have dollars come out of its money pot to help pay for the Free School Meals program.

The compensatory revenue districts receive has traditionally been calculated based on the number of students eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals (determined by income). But the Free School Meals program doesn’t have any income limits, which leaves the future impact on compensatory funding a bit of an unknown.

So, the legislature punted this complexity for the next two years by including a “hold-harmless” provision in the free school meals bill. But when year three of the free school meals program hits, the compensatory dollars districts receive could be impacted because they are tied up with the free meals funding. According to the Minnesota Department of Education, “MDE is working with the legislature to put a long-term solution in place.”

We will have to wait and see what the long-term fix will be.