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Vermont looks to become first state to provide universal meals to public school students

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 11: Students line up to receive food during lunch in the cafeteria at Bowie High School  March 11, 2004  in Austin, Texas. The Austin School District is working to make their cafeteria offerings more healthy, but the most  popular foods are still fried chicken strips, pizza, and french fries. Concern about increased levels of childhood obesity in the United States has made the food served in public schools cafeterias a much greater concern. (Photo by Jana Birchum/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 11: Students line up to receive food during lunch in the cafeteria at Bowie High School March 11, 2004 in Austin, Texas. The Austin School District is working to make their cafeteria offerings more healthy, but the most popular foods are still fried chicken strips, pizza, and french fries. Concern about increased levels of childhood obesity in the United States has made the food served in public schools cafeterias a much greater concern. (Photo by Jana Birchum/Getty Images) (2004 Getty Images)

(CNN) – A Vermont lawmaker is looking to make the state the first to provide meals to all public school students.

State Democratic Sen. Debbie Ingram filed a bill last week that would provide free breakfast and lunch to all public school students pre-K through 12th grade. The proposal, she said, is intended to fill the "equity" and "need" gaps of those families and comes at a time when the federal government has been disinvesting in low income families with "changes to food supplemental programs like (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)."

The program is estimated to cost roughly $4 million a year -- taken from the state's Education Fund -- and would be phased in over a five-year period and fully operating by fall 2025, according to Ingram. The Vermont lawmaker was not able to provide specific details about how funds would be diverted from the Education Fund to the meal program.

While Ingram said the price tag has concerned some state lawmakers over the burden it would place on taxpayers, she told CNN there is already high interest in the proposal, which is in "early stages."

"People do need to be convinced because the concern is the cost. We are being careful to not put too much of a burden on taxpayers," Ingram said

Two other Democratic lawmakers -- including the head of the state's Senate Agriculture Committee -- and a state Republican lawmaker have co-sponsored the bill.

The measure also seeks to assist schools that might not meet the federal criteria for providing universal meals.

Currently, roughly 16,400 public school students in Vermont receive taxpayer-funded breakfast and lunch, according to Hunger Free Vermont Executive Director Anore Horton. The bill, which is supported by the organization, is set to expand that to roughly 89,000 students if passed and signed into law.

Horton told CNN the bill is about eliminating the "stigma and shame" students and families could experience incurring debt in the traditional school meals program.

“We want to eliminate this last piece of inequity in ways we educate our students. Make sure no student has to know what hunger feels like at school,” she said, adding later: “I am very confident that we will get to universal schools meals in Vermont. Might not be this year, but we have strong support in Legislature.”