Seven-year-old Bradford Feller, right, takes a bite of the second helping of food that he got after finishing what was on his tray during lunchtime for the second grade students in the cafeteria at Plateau Valley School. The entrée for the day was roasted broccoli with basil pesto pasta. (Gretel Daugherty, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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Amid a host of hardships, the pandemic brought a silver lining to Colorado schools: All students could eat lunch for free, with no stigma and no paperwork.

A broad coalition of nutritionists and farmers, parents and teachers wants to see Colorado continue this benefit into the future.

“This is an incredible opportunity for our kids to continue to get access to meals and not have to worry about whether or not their families can afford it or whether or not their families have applied for assistance,” said Taylor Hubbard, an elementary parent from Bellvue in northern Colorado. “It’s just one less worry.”

But Colorado lawmakers of both parties have concerns about the cost of the proposal — an estimated $118 million a year — when the state has many other unmet education needs. After more than two hours of testimony Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee delayed a vote on Senate Bill 87 so the sponsors can look for ways to lower the cost.

Bill sponsor state Sen. Brittany Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat, said she’s confident Colorado lawmakers can prioritize the money to feed many more children than it did before the pandemic. But she and fellow bill sponsors plan to introduce amendments that would lower the cost, possibly excluding some districts with a greater number of higher-income families.

The bill is also sponsored by state Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora and state Reps. Serena Gonzalez-Guitierrez of Denver and Dafna Michaelson Jenet of Commerce City. All of the prime sponsors are Democrats.