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Posted at 10:41 AM ET, 10/21/2010

Kudos for D.C. school meal program but hold applause for Congress

By Valerie Strauss

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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By Valerie Strauss  | 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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It is basic. But, many people don't want to give hand-outs to poor people, even if to children.

Since these are people who have never gone hungry in their lives they don't mind wasting time and money test prepping hungry kids.

Personally, I can't concentrte on math when I'm hungry. Why would a growing child be able to?

Whatever happened to "compassionate conservatism"? What is up with Congress? Taking money out of the food stamps program during a major recession. What happened to family values?

Posted by: celestun100 | October 21, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse


Would be most interesting if you could probe some brains within the House Committee on Agriculture regarding coporate farm subsidies vs. sustaining and protecting smaller family farms. Of course, within the vast gulf of the two would lie an enormous amount of money better spend on nutrition programs such as the one for children in DC schools, increasing the amount of fresh programs in WIC vouchers, etc.

Posted by: shadwell1 | October 21, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

This is one of many reasons why Michelle Rhee should never have been appointed chancellor. She knows nothing about education. This is one of many factors which affect a student's ability to learn. Teachers have been saying this for years, that students don't come to school ready or prepared to learn. It's not excuses, it's facts. Naive, simplistic people like Rhee can't face the facts. The problem in urban schools is poverty, NOT the teachers.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | October 21, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Pat Wingert is praising Rhee at Newsweek:

Posted by: jlp19 | October 21, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

When everyone speak on poverty, the first issue is hunger. An family that lived in poverty and citzen of American, qualified for foodstamps to buy foods. Number one problem living in poverty is low-income. This keep parents from enrolling their children into after programs, to keep them off the street. While many after school programs have been eliminated and that pushes the children back into street. 2nd Low-income hinder us as parents to send our children to the best schools. Next , students living in poverty area will be taugth by inexperience teachers or Intern. All the programs that inspires students to stay in schools like Band, Art, Drama have been cut from urban schools. When in the surburban wealthy parent can write a check or some foundation bail them out. There many teachers living on salary they didn't earn living in surburban neighborhood on the back of childrens of color. Yes, feed the childrens and also hold the peoples accountability that not making the grades in classrooms. No more free rides on back of childrens and parents that lived in poverty neighborhood.

Mary Johnson

Posted by: mjadvocate2004 | October 22, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

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