"Parents who can still pay should pay," Unger said. "They also can donate to the program."
Unger said schools already provide children with free textbooks and free bus rides to school, so it makes sense for school to offer free meals, as well.
"This bill is to ensure no child is going hungry in West Virginia," Unger said.
The program would take effect in fall 2015, starting in elementary schools and expanding into middle and high schools as additional funds become available.
Unger predicts that the universal school-meal program will drive more federal dollars into West Virginia. The federal government reimburses the state for every school breakfast and lunch served.
The bill's supporters say students who eat nutritious meals get better grades and higher test scores -- and cause fewer discipline problems.
"We can have the best schools, the best teachers . . . but if the child is hungry, then student achievement won't occur," Unger said. "This is about making sure every child is ready to learn."
The bill now moves to the House of Delegates.
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.