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Bill creates state grants for free feminine hygiene products in Title 1 schools

By MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Free feminine hygiene products could be provided to students in some Title 1 schools under a bill awaiting a vote in the Alabama House of Representatives. 

House Bill 50 was approved in a House committee last week after being scaled back from Rep. Rolanda Hollis’ original proposal to require tampons and sanitary napkins be given to girls in grades 5-12 in all public schools. 

“(House Bill) 50 is a bill to address period poverty,” Hollis, D-Birmingham, said last week in the House education budget committee. “We have females who miss school because they cannot afford these products.” 

The legislation is expected to be voted on Tuesday in the House.

According to a fiscal note on the bill, there are about 91,000 female students in grades five through twelve at 417 Title I schools around the state. The U.S. Department of Education defines Title 1 schools as “schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families.” 

Hollis’ original bill had a projected cost of nearly $6 million. Supplying period products to students in all Title I schools would cost about $2 million per year, but the bill calls for a state-funded grant program schools can apply to.

Committee chairman Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, last week said $200,000 would be put in the 2023 education budget for a grant program. Without state funding, schools aren’t required to supply the products.

The Alliance for Period Supplies reported that one in five females ages 12-44 in Alabama live below the poverty line, and 45% of seventh through 12th grade girls in the state’s public school system attend Title 1 eligible schools.

Period poverty has also been shown to have an effect on girls’ education. The organization PERIOD, a non-profit whose mission is to end period poverty, said four in five teens have either missed class themselves or know someone who has missed class because they were not able to access menstrual products.

“It should be something that is provided for them so that they can have dignity and carry on their school education without having to leave school or be absent,” Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, said. She has promised to advocate for Hollis’ bill in the Senate if it passes the House.

Hollis said she noticed “a lack of these young girls at schools that do not have the income to afford these products,” and began digging into this issue and drafting legislation.

Before drafting this bill, Hollis assisted Lisa Herring, former superintendent of Birmingham City Schools, in surveying people from various Alabama schools. The survey showed that female teachers, counselors, nurses and coaches were purchasing these products for students out-of-pocket.

Sally Smith, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, said school leaders were worried about the financial implications of the original bill, but the new substitute bill addressed those concerns.

Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur said in a committee meeting that she plans to work with Hollis on an amendment to require female nurses or counselors at the schools to dispense the products instead of stocking them in the bathrooms. 

The substitute bill received a favorable report from the House Ways and Means Education Committee on Wednesday. It will now move to the House.

“This is so needed for a group of girls that are often forgotten,” Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, said.

University efforts

Student-led initiatives at several Alabama universities are also attempting to address period poverty on campuses.

In 2019, Auburn University student Regan Moss established a chapter of PERIOD there. Though the chapter is not affiliated with the university, Moss and her peers do work closely with its staff.

“It’s important that we get rid of any barriers to education,” Moss said.

In winter of 2021, PERIOD, with the help of donors, began to supply free femine hygiene products at 88 different locations on Auburn’s campus. The organization and the school’s student government association are discussing the possibility of transferring the financial burden to the university. 

The University of Alabama is not far behind, acting in September to begin providing products in their student center restrooms as a test before they implement this policy campus-wide.

The Auburn chapter of PERIOD has teamed up with the Arkansas-based organization, FemPAQ to launch a new camaign called AL4M.E. (Alabama for Menstrual Equity). They are advocating for four statewide policy changes: providing free period products in all women’s restrooms in  schools; eradicating the “tampon tax,” which advocates say is the only sex-specific tax in the U.S.; making it possible to purchase femine hygiene products with government aid; and providing free products in prisons.


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