Tennessee bill would feed students even if they can't pay

A proposed law will try to end hunger in public schools, allowing students in need to eat even if they can't pay.

The bill is called the Tennessee Hunger-Free Students Act.

More than 83,000 students in Shelby County receive free or reduced lunch -- the most in the state.

Shelby County School District parent and volunteer Helen Collins told WHBQ a child left hungry at school should be a crime.

“A child that doesn’t eat is a child that is left behind. A child that doesn’t eat can't function,” Collins said.

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State leaders listened to the details of the bill Wednesday.

The bill would make sure every student on reduced lunch is given the opportunity to eat, whether or not they can pay. It also ensures that the student won't be punished for not paying or owing for past breakfast and lunch meals.

“Just feed them,” Collins said. “It’s not their responsibility. It’s not their fault they can't eat. It is somebody’s fault when they don’t eat.”

This bill specifies that a student must not be held personally responsible for a meal debt, regardless of the student’s age when the meal debt was incurred. It states a school must not require a student's parent or guardian to pay fees or costs from collection agencies hired to collect a meal debt.

If passed, the bill will go into effect next school year.

The K-12 subcommittee will vote on the Tennessee Hunger-Free Students Act in March.

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