Friday, February 17, 2017

GOP Takes Aim at School Meals

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Years ago when I was the principal of an elementary-junior high school in a district that had several such schools, I volunteered to have our little school institute a breakfast program.  Because the school was in an impoverished area, many of the children who took advantage of the hot morning meal were able to do so at a free or reduced cost.  It was such a raging success, that the district's five other elementary-junior highs soon came on board with their own hot breakfast programs.

Yes, there were some in the community who opposed the notion of schools providing breakfast to students, but I didn't care.  The research showed that students who had breakfast were better behaved at school and did better academically - findings that soon became evident in our own school setting.  Eating breakfast also led to better health outcomes.

The hard part of the school breakfast and lunch programs was the record keeping.  Someone had to be present in the lunch room to collect tickets or money, and there was also a lot of administrative time dedicated to wading through applications and figuring out who was eligible for free and reduced lunches - and which families had to pay the full price.  But in the end, the program ran smoothly and lots of hungry kids had at least two good meals a day - something of which I was very proud.

Over the years the program has changed, generally for the better.  Through something called the Community Eligibility Program (CEP), schools in poor areas where 40% of the students qualify for free meals, may now offer free meals to all students and then be reimbursed at a variable rate, according to the percentage of low-income families.  That helps to ease the administrative burden of determining who is and is not eligible, and it assures that the schools will receive some reimbursement on all students.  It also goes a long way toward eliminating the social stigma that comes to receiving free meals.

The GOP, which is historically known for losing interest in poor kids at the time of their birth, nevertheless has a strong interest in providing meals to needy students at school - a strong negative interest.  Republicans in the House are looking at "adjusting" the CEP percentage up to 60% in order to combat the "fraud" of children who could afford to pay for meals receiving them for free.  That change will reduce that number of children who are able to eat at school and it will increase the bookkeeping burden on the schools.

Think about that:  the same people who fall all over themselves giving tax breaks to corporations and billionaires, would gleefully yank the cafeteria trays away from hungry kids.  That is immorality in its rawest and most unforgivable form.

Feed those kids!   It's what Jesus would do.

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