PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The state requires Illinois schools to provide free lunches to its students. But some students refuse to eat them.
As mandated by law, schools must offer five items from different food groups: protein, grain, fruit, vegetable, and dairy. Students must choose a minimum of three of those five items.
Speaker pro tempore and State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth introduced a bill in 2019, HB1782, but reignited the fight to get it passed after seeing District 150 parents posting on social media that they were upset with their children’s lunches.
She said she became passionate about the issue in 2019, saying she was “appalled” by what her daughter ate for lunch.
“Many of our kids,” she said, “this is the only meal they’re getting every day.”
Wednesday, WMBD received hundreds of complaints, photos, Facebook comments, and messages regarding the free lunches served at Peoria Public Schools.
“I was reading these posts just like everyone else,” Gordon-Booth said. “You had some parents, like me, that knew that the school lunches were pretty terrible. And you had others that had no idea.”
Rep. Gordon-Booth said if an Illinois school is reliant on free and reduced lunch for its students, the state mandates the food contract be with the lowest bidder.
She said HB1782 would remove that mandate.
“The school district’s hands are tied,” she said. “There’s a lot of talk about the school district needing to provide better lunches, but I don’t think that people really understand the way that this procurement policy really ties their hands.”
A press release from the state representative’s office stated, “Currently, school contracts above $25,000 must be awarded to the lowest possible responsible bidder. Under Gordon-Booth’s proposal, school lunches would join other exemptions to this mandate, including exceptions for printing contracts, natural gas contracts, and other items.”
“This policy, quite frankly, has removed the ability for a school district to be able to negotiate a better quality for our young people, for our kiddos,” she said.
The School Code of Illinois backs her claims, stating, “All food service management company contracts involving expenditures in excess of $25,000 must be competitively bid. Currently, vended meals contracts involving expenditures in excess of the $250,000 federal threshold must be competitively bid.”
Jehan Gordon-Booth said if you want to support HB1782, find the bill on ilga.gov and fill out a witness slip or call her office at (309) 681-1992.