Students at Essex High School stepped out of class Tuesday to call on Vermont Governor Phil Scott to sign the universal school meals bill into law.

Earlier in May, Vermont’s legislature passed a bill with bipartisan support to continue free meals for K-12 students. The program began during the pandemic. It’s now paid for by Vermont’s education fund.

Scott, however, doesn’t support the bill, noting that the state’s education fund is replenished by property tax dollars already paid by Vermont families.

“We are taking money out of one pocket and putting it in the other,” Scott said at the statehouse earlier this month. “That’s not making anything more affordable.”

But on Tuesday, the students argued that the bill would be a worthy investment. They said thousands of Vermont families rely on the universal school meals program.

“Vermont families just like mine are reeling as inflation sends those expenses through the roof,” said Hailey Messier, a sophomore at Essex High School. “Providing free school meals to all students will help remove the stigma and shame felt by many students who do not have the luxury of paying for their own school meals.”

“With healthy brains and healthy bodies, students are more energized in classes and engaged, and in my opinion, that outweighs the financial burden this will put on the state,” said Emma Renaud, a sophomore at Essex High School.

Scott’s veto session begins in just under a month, and the universal school meals bill could be one of several pieces of legislation on the chopping block.

The legislature is likely to override him, however – the House approved it with 22 more votes than necessary for an override.