As a kid, I remember my father working hard at his own construction business, but the business collapsed and we went bankrupt, rapidly sliding from middle class to low income, something that many of today's families in Arizona are experiencing.

My parents divorced, and my mother started working as a secretary while raising four children on her own.

As an eighth-grader, I could get two essential and healthy meals a day from the National School Lunch Program. This helped to ease the burden on my mother, as the program does with millions of other parents.

Right now we have a budget surplus in Arizona, at the cost of record cuts to schools in the last few years.

This legislative session, it's time to draw the line at any further cuts to our kids' schools.

Instead, Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, is introducing divisive legislation that would harm kids in situations similar to mine growing up.

His bill, SB 1061, would place an undue burden on low-income families and their kids by making it optional for schools to participate in the National School Lunch Program, rather than requiring them to do so, as current state law says.

The benefits to participating in the School Lunch Program are overwhelming. For every meal served, schools get reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and reimbursements are higher for free or reduced-price lunches than for fully paid meals. For some children, this is their best, and perhaps only, meal of the day.

Should Crandall's bill pass, schools that opt out of the school lunch program will no longer provide free or reduced-price meals to low-income students.

The outcome is predictable: Fewer meals for kids mean underserved students, less energy and concentration in the classroom, and lower academic achievement.

Kids whose parents were laid off through no fault of their own and are still unemployed during the recession might not be able to move and transfer their son or daughter to a new school that retained the lunch program.

Tea party lawmakers already have cut $1.5 billion from our schools in recent years, and now Crandall is targeting Arizona's most vulnerable population - kids whose best meal is often the free or reduced-priced lunch they get at school.

During a committee hearing, Crandall reportedly said that he was "not worried about what will happen to the affected children."

These are not the kind of policies we want for our kids. We want our students to be energetic and focused in the classroom so they can achieve their academic goals and compete in the global economy.

Crandall's bill directly blocks kids' paths to a better future.

We should be helping our schools and students improve and help families recover from the recession, not making it harder for them.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, represents District 16 at the Arizona Legislature.

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