Bill calls for assurance that low-income kids get school meals

Bill calls for assurance that low-income kids get school meals

(Calif.) Public schools in California do not have to participate in federal school meal programs, but under a bill moving through the state Legislature, they will have to ensure low-income children receive at least one meal on campus that meets federal nutrition requirements.

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton and author of AB 354, noted that academic performance is partially linked to if students are coming to school hungry, and that all traditional and public charter schools should be providing lunch to children eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

“Many schools do this, and some schools also provide breakfast, but there are some public schools that maybe have a very small percentage of Title I students, and many times they don’t give that meal to those students,” Quirk-Silva said during a Senate committee hearing Wednesday. “We want students, no matter what school they’re going to, to have at least the one nutritious meal.”

Studies have shown that healthier school environments have numerous benefits for students. For example, quality physical education predicts higher levels of physical activity in school. And school wellness policies that promote increased access to healthier foods and limit access to unhealthy foods have been linked to lower caloric intake and improved student diets.

Since 2004, all school districts participating in the federal meal programs have been required to create a committee of stakeholders and write a school wellness policy that set goals for physical and nutrition education, and set nutrition standards for meals and snacks served.

In 2010, the scope of school wellness policies was expanded by The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act which, among other things, aimed to promote more physical activity and increase the amount of whole grains, fruits and vegetables served in school meal programs while lowering sugars, sodium and calorie intake.

There are 530 districts with nearly 1,800 school sites statewide that do not participate in the federal National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, according to California Department of Education data. Of these, there are close to 240 county office of education sites, which include almost 90 charter schools; and close to an additional 1,540 school district sites, which include about 900 charter school sites, according to analysis from the Assembly’s education committee.

Altogether, legislative analysts said approximately 8 percent of traditional school sites and 74 percent of charter school sites do not participate in these school meal reimbursement programs.

Under AB 354, those schools would be required to report to the state education department how their alternative meal program will ensure that eligible students are provided with at least one free or reduced-price meal. Additionally, the bill calls for adequate space to be provided for children to eat their school meals–a space Quirk-Silva said could be as simple as students eating at their desks.

Other bills that passed the Senate education committee include:

  • AB 709, authored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, which would authorize the governing board of a school district to award a student member elective course credit for serving on the board, and prohibits student members from being considered members of the governing board for purposes of the Ralph M. Brown Act.
  • AB 1153, authored by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, which aims to ensure annual training is provided on the detection and reporting of child abuse to employees and administrators of community college districts who are mandated reporters. The bill’s author said this change would benefit K-12 students participating in dual-enrollment programs on college campuses.

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