Gov. Mark Dayton is putting his full political weight behind a new proposal that would pay for hot lunches for students who can not pay.

Dayton's move comes after a new report showed that many Minnesota school districts deny a hot lunch to students if they can’t pay for the meal.

“No child in Minnesota should be denied a healthy lunch,” said Dayton, who is at Mayo Clinic recuperating from hip surgery. “We cannot expect our students to succeed on an empty stomach. I look forward to working with the legislature to make this issue a priority in the upcoming legislative session.”

A majority of public school districts in this state deny hot lunch — or any lunch at all in some cases — to children who can’t pay for them, according to a Star Tribune story on a new report by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid. Some schools take the meals from students in the lunch line and dump them in the trash when the computer shows their account is empty.

The state is likely to have a surplus of close to $1 billion for the rest of the budget cycle and legislators are expected to figure out what to do with the money when they convene later this month.

The $3.5 million needed to pay for the hot lunches would make up a tiny sliver of any larger budget agreement. Deputy Senate Majority Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, is a sponsor of the proposal in the Legislature.

According to the report, more than half of Minnesota school districts provide low-income students alternative meals, such as a cold cheese sandwich, if they are unable to pay the 40 cents required for a reduced-price hot lunch.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius contacted all Minnesota school districts this week, urging them to ensure that all Minnesota children have access to a complete lunch.

“For too many of our children, school meals may be the only nutritious meals they receive,” Cassellius wrote to school officials. “We also know that children learn best when they have nutritious meals throughout their days.”

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