Alaska Legislature

Free and reduced-price meals for low-income Alaska students added to draft House budget

JUNEAU — Funding was added Tuesday to the draft Alaska House budget to cover the costs of reduced-price meals for the next school year.

Providing breakfast and lunch for all 3,914 children in the state who qualify for free and reduced-price meals would cost an estimated $479,500, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Division.

The amendment was added to the budget late Tuesday on a 39-1 vote. Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman was the only vote against it.

The funding would come from an equivalent cut in funding for the Department of Corrections.

”We know that when kids are hungry, it is really hard for them to focus on learning,” said Rep. Jennie Armstrong, D-Anchorage, who sponsored the amendment and received reduced-price lunches as a child.

Rep. Jamie Allard, an Eagle River Republican, applauded Armstrong’s amendment in part because it came with a cut. Allard said that she too grew up receiving food stamps.

“I was able to go to school and have free lunches,” she said.


In its estimates, the Legislative Finance Division assumed that a maximum of about 1.4 million meals could be provided to the 3,914 students for the whole school year. The $479,500 figure reflects the cost to the state to reimburse 30 cents per breakfast and 40 cents per lunch.

Armstrong said the funding in the budget was for only one year. The state Department of Education would be asked to submit a report showing how many free and reduced-price meals were claimed.

In her floor speech, Armstrong said a program that provided free lunches during the COVID-19 pandemic made a significant difference. She referred to an Anchorage Daily News story from December that said the state was experiencing an unprecedented level of food insecurity due to food costs and a food stamp application backlog.

The amendment was one of four added to the budget out of 74 that were heard or prepared. Another amendment that was adopted added roughly $9 million to help fund the Alaska Reads Act, the landmark reading bill approved by the Legislature two years ago.

School districts would receive $180 for every K-3 student to help cover the costs of reading intervention programs. Students at Title I schools would get an additional $100.

The amendment, proposed by Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, is the same as a provision in a House Republican-backed education bill that advanced Monday to the House Finance Committee.

The amendment was adopted on a 21-19 vote. All 16 members of Democrat-dominated minority voted for the amendment, and so did the three non-Republican members of the majority who represent districts in rural Alaska. Republican Reps. Jesse Sumner and Justin Ruffridge also voted yes.

In the education bill vetoed last month by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, there was a provision to pay school districts $500 for each K-3 student who was struggling to read. The governor suggested that could inadvertently reward poor outcomes.

Earlier Tuesday, the House voted 39-1 to adopt an amendment that would create a drug-free zone around a proposed 200-bed Anchorage homeless shelter. Eastman voted no and said if that designation prevented the consumption of drugs, then the entire state should be a drug-free zone.

Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, proposed the amendment. He said enhanced penalties could be enforced for drug offenses around the shelter.

“I just don’t want to have a central location for drugs,” he said on the floor.

Tok Republican Mike Cronk proposed giving Team Alaska $300,000 for the Arctic Winter Games. Cronk’s amendment was adopted 35-5.

The House was scheduled to continue hearing budget amendments Wednesday.

Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at