Kudos for D.C. school meal program but hold applause for Congress
D.C. public schools officials deserve an ovation for a new program to feed dinner to about 10,000 students in an effort to help improve childhood nutrition and ensure that kids don’t go hungry. But let's hold the applause for Congress.
As my colleague Bill Turque reported here, the D.C. schools are now serving dinner in 99 of its 123 schools, reaching nearly a quarter of the students in the district, many of whom now eat three meals a day at school.
The program is an acknowledgment that the effects of poverty and food insecurity are significant and can affect a child’s ability to do well in school.
The irony in this is that the city’s soon-to-be-departed schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, has repeatedly downplayed the role of poverty in student achievement gaps and has even called it “an excuse” for bad teaching.
Organizations working to end childhood hunger pushed the system to do this, and for good reason: The research on the link between poverty and academic achievement is overwhelming.
Kids who are hungry and/or aren’t assured of sufficient food each day, are far more at risk of experiencing developmental delays in acquiring expressive and receptive language, fine and gross motor control, social behavior, emotional control, and more. The link to behavior problems, including depression, anxiety and loneliness, is strong as well.
While the D.C. school district is moving forward on helping to curb childhood hunger, Congress Congress adjourned this week for next month’s mid-term elections without reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act.
The law controls the country’s federally funded school meals program and its revision -- which would mandate strict nutrition standards for foods sold in schools, among other things -- has been a centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to curb childhood obesity by promoting healthful eating.
The House and Senate versions of the legislation are very different, most prominently in the Senate’s proposal to partially fund spending increases by taking a few billion dollars away from the federal program that provides food stamps to low-income families.
If it sounds like this is essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul, that’s because it is.
Anti-hunger activists complained to the Senate, as did scores of House Democrats, noting that it makes no sense to help hungry people by taking money from one food program to fund another. But the issue won’t be resolved until after the elections.
It should be noted that the Obama administration earlier this year suggested that it was willing to take money from food stamps to fund its ridiculous Race to the Top education competition, which pitted states against each other for federal funds that could be won by implementing specific school reforms.
It seems so basic that it shouldn’t even be up for date: Kids who are hungry, or malnourished, won’t do as well in school as kids who aren’t.
Ideally all families would have the resources to make sure kids are properly fed, but in that absence, it really is incumbent on school and government officials to care as much about this at last as much as they do about making sure the kids take standardized tests.
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| October 21, 2010; 10:41 AM ET
Categories: D.C. Schools, Health | Tags: d.c. schools, dinners at school, food stamps, healthy meals, hunger, michelle rhee, nutrition, obama administration, school breakfast, school dinners, school lunch, school meals, school nutrition act
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