See more of the story

Pads and tampons are as necessary in school bathrooms as toilet paper and soap, say the backers of a legislative proposal to provide such products to students from fourth grade on up.

The bill, reviewed Wednesday by a House education committee, would require school districts to supply bathrooms with menstrual products by the start of the academic year this fall.

Rep. Sandra Feist, DFL-New Brighton, who sponsored the bill, argues in part that students experiencing "period poverty" regularly opt to skip class when they don't have access to menstrual products, which hurts their academic performance.

She's asking lawmakers to provide about $2 per pupil for the products, which puts the legislation's price tag in the neighborhood of $2 million.

"Helping students who regularly miss school stay in class is a wise investment. Chronic absenteeism costs a lot more than free period products," Feist said during the hearing before the House Education Policy Committee.

She began working on the bill two years ago when a freshman at Hopkins High School told her about the issues students face when they don't have menstrual products readily available.

That student, Elif Ozturk, told committee members Wednesday that some of her friends and classmates routinely stay home when they're running low on pads or tampons. Ozturk, who is now a junior, said that making those products available in school bathrooms would remove what is too often a barrier to their education.

"We cannot learn when we are leaking," Ozturk said.

The legislation follows on the heels of a local campaign by students in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district. In 2021, Eagan High School's Women Empowerment Club pressed the school board to adopt a similar measure and secured $10,000 from a district foundation to stock every girls' and single-occupant bathroom in the district with pads and tampons.

Tori Robarge, an Eagan High graduate who participated in that effort, said more than one-third of the students the club surveyed said teachers had refused their requests to visit the school nurse for a pad or tampon during class. Forty-three percent said they were embarrassed to ask the nurse for menstrual products in the first place.

"Period poverty is not a political issue. Period poverty is a health issue and an equity issue," Robarge told the committee.

Republicans on the committee took issue with the bill, arguing state law doesn't block districts from stocking bathrooms with menstrual products and that the legislation amounted to one more mandate on schools.

Rep. Patricia Mueller, R-Austin, suggested such policies should be handled at the local level. She referred to the Eagan initiative and another effort students undertook in Austin.

"Our local community was able to rally around our students," Mueller said. "Our students were able to take ownership and have a sense of accomplishment as they completed this."

The committee's Democratic majority voted to send the bill forward to the House Education Finance Committee, which has not yet set a hearing date.