The Impact of School Meal Programs
School meal programs have become a hot-button issue over the past few years. Is that because in 2017, the Department of Agriculture, which oversees school lunch programs, imposed a July 1st deadline for states to establish policies on how to treat children who cannot pay for lunch? Or is because the 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill included a waiver for schools to opt out of providing healthier meals for students? Maybe it’s even due the to the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act spurred by Michelle Obama. Whatever the reason, lately the issue has been getting a lot of publicity.
16 million American kids struggle with hunger each year, and, according to Children’s Hunger Alliance, hungry children are twice as likely to repeat a grade because undernourished children have difficulties with focusing in class. For many of these children, the meals they eat at school are the only ones they receive, making weekends and summers quite difficult. To help with this issue, many schools are looking for an alternative solution to feed their students. One that doesn’t require neither the school nor the students to pay extra, but still provides the students with quality meals. But, where can a school go to find a solution like this? The community. There are so many reports of community members nationwide rallying and donating money to pay for unpaid lunch bills, and of organizations creating free programs that collect food items to donate to children in need!
One such organization is called the BackPack Buddies. This program is designed to provide children from low-income households with 10-12 pounds of nutritious, kid-friendly groceries for the weekend days when free school lunches and breakfasts are not provided. Regardless of a student’s economic status, all children should be given the same school lunch options. Students who eat regular, healthy meals are less likely to be tired, and are more attentive in class resulting in higher test scores. You would think that a school would want to ensure that all of their students have the best opportunity to do well in school. It’s a win-win situation. The students get healthy lunch options, and the schools look better for having higher scores.
Then, there are the children that qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Now, it’s a whole new ballgame. According to the National School Lunch Program, in order to qualify for reduced meals, a child must come from a household with an income at or below 130-185% of the Federal poverty level. Last year, that meant that for a family of 4, that household would have earned around $25,000 a year in wages. If the household income is already that low, it can be extremely difficult for parents to keep up with paying for school lunches. Many US schools claim that the debt this creates for them puts a significant strain on their financial bottom line, and believe that the only way they will get the parents to resolve their student’s lunch debt is if they refuse to provide the students with nutritional lunches until the bill has been paid. Unfortunately, this has a much bigger impact on students than it ever will on school budgets.
All in all, regardless if a student pays for a regular priced or a reduced priced lunch, or gets a free lunch, children are all impacted by a school meal program further cementing how important these programs are to childhood development.
If you would like to get involved with school meal programs or to learn more about the National School Lunch Program, please visit https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/school-meals-contacts.