A School Lunch Solution in Search of a Problem [The Atlantic]

Written on 13 May 2016, 08:45am under As Seen In

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The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows a school or district to provide free lunch and breakfast to all students when 40 percent or more of its student body is found to be food insecure: they live in homes that receive food stamps, live in foster care, are homeless, or other criteria that identifies them as food vulnerable. The CEP is widely praised by educators and others for lowering administrative costs and feeding more hungry kids.

Yet the House subcommittee that oversees school nutrition programs has introduced a bill that would raise the threshold for schools and districts to qualify for the program. An analysis shows that some 7,000 high-poverty schools would be affected–forcing these schools to shift limited resources to managing paperwork and disrupting access to breakfast and lunch for low-income students.

Yes, hunger impairs school performance. Yes, school breakfast and school lunch can stave off hunger for impoverished children. And we never talk about why affluent children need to eat. It’s a given. Perhaps because eating is a basic human function. This week in The Atlantic I look at the political gamesmanship over something as basic as feeding hungry children.

Some of the most vocal opponents of the proposed bill are educators who live in Indiana, the home state of the bill’s author. The Republican Congressman Todd Rokita, who chairs the subcommittee that introduced the bill, represents an area in Indiana where nearly 34,000 children were rated “food insecure”—living in a household with limited or uncertain access to adequate food—according to the latest data from Feeding America.

The disconnect between politics and policy seems most glaring in the one aspect of school meals that is hardest to measure: the widespread stigma that students and families often attach to free meals at school. Morris C. Leis, the superintendent of Coffee County Schools in south central Georgia, said that community eligibility allows the district to serve free breakfast and lunch to over 6,400 kids—84 percent of the entire student population—but with the proposed change, six schools would be unable to participate, affecting some 3,800 children. A racially and ethnically diverse district, 28 percent of his community lives at or below the federal poverty level. “Coffee County has many [families] living paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “For some students, the meals they eat at school may be the only meals they get during the day or even on the weekend.”

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