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Changing School Lunch and Stop Selling Junk Food

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Times are tough, and every family is different. These are good programs, but they are not good enough. Each year consists of about 6,000 waking hours. Children in America, on average, spend about 1,000 of them in school. When eating breakfast at 8 a.m, the average child’s brainpower tends to decrease once 11 a.m. Kids who do not eat lunch because they can not afford it will not have enough nutrients to learn for the second half of the school day. Free school lunch is a critical element for schools to ensure all students receive the nutrition they need to enhance learning. One child missing a meal, and going hungry is too many. That’s why it should be a federal law, that offers free lunch in all public schools for all students, regardless of income. This way it’s simple, cost-effective and easy, and nobody will be singled out, or go hungry if they do not bring their lunch from home.

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Besides students’ needs as being my main reason, free lunch on the contrary to popular belief is not free. It’s paid for. Tax dollars pay for public education and that is lunch include, so why would there be an added on two dollars for school lunch? Also, giving kids free meals at school will cut administrative costs. You will not need an extra three or four computers in each line, that most schools have, and you won’t need cashiers for these lines either. These computers and other saved resources can go to other areas of the school. According to the latest data released by the NEA, Texas spent $10,456 per student for the 2017-18 school year $2,300 below the national average. Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, which is affiliated with the NEA, said the national education group gets its figures from the Legislative Budget Board. In the 2016 fiscal year, the NEA said Texas spent roughly $9,471 for each public school student.

The bottom line on this is that local property taxpayers pay more per student, on average, than the state government does, that’s because the state refuses to adequately pay their share for public education. Total spending on public education has stayed relatively steady over the past decade. But who is paying for it has shifted. The money used to educate the average public school student comes from state, federal and local dollars. In 2008, state and local districts were contributing about $18 billion each to fund K-12 public education. By 2017, the Texas population had grown significantly, but the state’s contribution had only grown slightly to a little more than $19 billion. Meanwhile, local school districts’ shares had grown to roughly $27 billion. The issue of state versus local funding for public education has been a point of contention in the Legislature and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

The National School Lunch Program was put into place to prevent events like this from happening, yet there seems to be something missing from the equation. According to the USDA, the lunch program invites all students whose parental income is below the poverty line to free hot lunches. Furthermore, students can receive discounted lunches if their household income is close to the poverty line. Students whose families live above the poverty line are expected to pay full price. One would think that it would be simple to provide students the necessary nutrition, but the USDA School Lunch Program doles out billions back to participating schools each year in reimbursement for these meals. At the end of the day, schools set the price of their lunches, and the program will reimburse back the school depending on a percentage. Essentially the government will reimburse schools for the cost of lunch up to 2.93 for students receiving free lunch, indicating that that’s the general price meals should run for in the current school system.

However, the topic is tricky seeing as most schools are already incredibly underfunded and understaffed. To support a cafeteria a school needs to pay workers and for supplies for said lunches. However, in the case of Della Curry the food she was being asked to deny students were being thrown away at the end of each day. It’s clear our children cannot go hungry, and the idea that some young minds are being sent back to classrooms on practically empty stomachs cannot stand. In 2013, a study was conducted by Feeding America and found that 15.8 million children in America alone live in food-insecure houses. This means that most of the time these children are coming to school hungry or going back to a house where they may not have access to the most nutritious dinners. For optimal cognitive growth, a child needs roughly 1400 calories of food per day and a variety of whole grains, protein, fruits, and vegetables. When a child comes from a low-income family, their dietary needs are more often than not already falling short of what they need to learn. When you add in the factor of schools not being able to fiscally provide children with at least one meal a day that is healthy and filling, the child’s learning abilities are impaired.

Being hungry makes it difficult to focus, makes a child’s mood more surly and makes it more difficult for them to retain information. In short, when we are unable to provide our students with their nutritional needs their education is failing them. This is something Della Curry understood when she fought against the idea of providing a child with simple bread and cheese for lunch. When you consider that the cost to feed and house a federal prisoner per year is $31,286 per inmate in taxpayer dollars and it costs roughly $10,615 to send a child to public school per year, the answer seems simple to provide more nutritional options to children in school. I’m not suggesting that federal prisoners be treated to less. I’m simply pointing out that when you stare at the fiscal numbers between the two institutions, it would ultimately benefit our future to pour more money into feeding hungry bodies and minds.

Some states have created programs to help de-stigmatize the hunger issue. Instead of making students come early to go to the cafeteria before classes, many schools have made breakfast a whole-school, after-the-bell event. New York City schools began offering free breakfast and lunch for all students in September of 2017, reducing the stigma of “qualifying” for such programs. “Traditional breakfast — served in the cafeteria before the school day begins — often has low participation due to factors ranging from tight schedules to concerns about stigma,” according to Hunger Solutions NY. The growing trend in Breakfast After the Bell programs helps reduce hunger-shame and integrates breakfast into the school day and even into the classroom. According to The “Effect of Providing Breakfast in Class on Student Performance” in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, math and reading achievement test scores go up when breakfast is moved from the cafeteria and into the classroom.

In Minnesota, many low-income children are eligible for free breakfast programs, but cannot get to school early enough to participate or avoid the program because of the stigma associated with eating a free breakfast (Hunger-Free Minnesota, 2013). During the 2009-10 school year, 47 low-income children took part in school breakfast programs for every 100 children who ate free or reduced lunch (Public Health Law Center, 2012). During the 2011-12 school year, low-income children eligible for free and reduced meals missed 29 million school breakfasts, meaning that Minnesota schools missed more than $53 million in federal funds (Hunger-Free Minnesota, 2013). In addition to lost federal funds, students who do not participate in school breakfast are at risk for increased absences, adverse behavior, reduced concentration, and poor academic performance.

Recent studies have demonstrated that nutrition affects students’ thinking skills, behavior, and health, all factors that impact academic performance. Research suggests that diets high in trans and saturated fats can negatively impact learning and memory, nutritional deficiencies early in life can affect the cognitive development of school-aged children, and access to nutrition improves students’ cognition, concentration, and energy levels. For example, one study found that 5th-grade students with less nutritious diets performed worse on a standardized literacy assessment (Florence, Asbridge, & Veugelers, 2008). Another study discovered that 5th-grade students who ate more fast food fared worse on math and reading scores (Li & O’Connell, 2012). Similarly, a study that analyzed a healthy eating campaign that banned junk food from schools and introduced healthier, freshly prepared school meals found that participating students scored higher on English and science tests than students who did not take part in the campaign (Belot & James, 2009).

A child nutrition reauthorization bill (H.R. 5003) introduced on April 20 by Rep. Todd Rokita, chair of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, includes a provision that would severely restrict schools’ eligibility for community eligibility, an option within the national school lunch and breakfast programs allowing high-poverty schools to provide meals at no charge to all students. Growing up in a high-poverty neighborhood can have lasting effects on a child’s growth and development, even if the family itself is not low-income. Access to healthy meals at home and school can help children overcome some of the negative consequences of poverty and food insecurity. Yet the bill would eliminate the option of community eligibility for thousands of schools serving some of our highest-poverty communities, imposing more paperwork and administrative burdens on under-resourced schools. High-poverty neighborhoods, which can be violent, stressful, and environmentally hazardous, can impair children’s cognitive development, school performance, mental health, and long-term physical health even if the family itself is not low-income. For school districts with high-poverty schools, adopting community eligibility can improve access to school meals and help children perform better in school. Children experiencing hunger have been found to have lower math scores and be more likely to repeat a grade; teens experiencing hunger are more likely to have been suspended from school and have difficulty getting along with other children. Meanwhile, educators report that children who eat breakfast at school are more likely to arrive at school on time, behave, and be attentive in class.

Times are tough, and every family is different. These are good programs, but they are not good enough. Each year consists of about 6,000 waking hours. Children in America, on average, spend about 1,000 of them in school. By 2017, the Texas population had grown significantly, but the state’s contribution had only grown slightly to a little more than $19 billion. Meanwhile, local school districts’ shares had grown to roughly $27 billion. The issue of state versus local funding for public education has been a point of contention in the Legislature and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

When you consider that the cost to feed and house a federal prisoner per year is $31,286 per inmate in taxpayer dollars and it costs roughly $10,615 to send a child to public school per year, the answer seems simple to provide more nutritional options to children in school. I’m not suggesting that federal prisoners be treated to less. I’m simply pointing out that when you stare at the fiscal numbers between the two institutions, it would ultimately benefit our future to pour more money into feeding hungry bodies and minds.

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