Florida teacher: Plan to limit poor students’ access to school meals “unthinkable”

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By Amanda Litvinov

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A significant change proposed by the U.S. House to the federal child nutrition law would reduce student access to healthy school meals. And that is very concerning to educators.

The community eligibility provision (CEP) of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act allows schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to the entire student body if at least 40 percent of students are identified as eligible for CEP. Schools that adopt CEP are reimbursed for meals at a slightly higher rate, and they are freed of the administrative burden of enrolling each qualifying student for free or reduced-price meals.

Most important, community eligibility makes school a hunger-free zone where all students are more likely to achieve.

But a proposal by the House Education and Workforce Committee to raise the eligibility threshold—requiring that 60 percent of the student body is eligible for CEP—means thousands of schools that have already enacted CEP would lose it, and thousands more would become ineligible to do so in the future.

That did not come as welcome news to Florida teacher Apryle Jackson, who says there’s no question the provision has improved life for low-income kids in Osceola County, where she lives and currently serves as president of the Osceola Education Association.

“We’ve seen a real difference in our schools that offer free meals to all students,” said Jackson. “Attendance has gone up and the kids are on task more often.”

Osceola County has one of the highest rates of homeless students in the state, largely because of the high number of low-paying, high turnover jobs in the tourism industry.

“So many of our working parents earn less than $10 an hour and rents here are really high,” Jackson said. “They have to double up with other families, stay in low-rent hotels, or camp out, and they’re likely to have problems providing meals for their families.”

Fifty of Osceola County’s 52 schools currently qualify for community eligibility, and so far, 30 have adopted it. But if the House proposal goes through, only 28 schools will qualify, according to research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Food Research & Action Center.

Statewide, roughly half of Florida schools that could implement community eligibility currently do. But the state might not get the opportunity to broaden adoption of the program, and many schools will lose it under the House proposal.

The potential effect on child hunger nationwide is alarming.

More than 18,000 of the nation’s high-poverty schools have adopted community eligibility, and more than 7,000 of them would lose it within two years, affecting nearly 3.4 million students. Another 11,647 schools that qualify but have not yet adopted it would lose eligibility.

The House committee could act as early as next week.

“To say that progress on child nutrition would be set back by this proposal is putting it lightly,” said NEA Director of Government Relations Mary Kusler. “More than 3 million children will lose access to community eligibility, which could put some at risk of no longer receiving meals at all.

“We shouldn’t even consider making this powerful tool in the fight against child hunger less effective when so many students and their families are living below the poverty line,” Kusler said.

Florida’s Apryle Jackson has taught every level from kindergarten through adult education, and most recently she taught intensive reading for high school students. She says that ensured access to free breakfast and lunch could have really helped students like hers.

“There’s no question it would have helped most of the kids I ever taught over the course of my career,” said Jackson.  “When I taught 4th grade, I remember we had a little girl who was hitting, biting, and flailing. We discovered she hadn’t eaten all weekend and was trying to get some food from the teacher’s desk,” Jackson said.

“If we have a way to combat hunger like that, we shouldn’t be letting it go. It’s unthinkable.”

Reader Comments

  1. Ridiculous that this is even being considered as anything other than inhumane. Until you’ve seen the reality of the social dynamic within a given school, and until you’ve seen the children going days straight without food; whose stomachs can be heard rumbling and moaning during the silent moments of class time… I don’t expect you to make an attempt at a comment.

  2. I do not understand the inhumanity of some of the comments. As a teacher in a middle school with a very high rate of poverty, I know school food makes a real difference. Many parents are working not 1 but 2-3 jobs trying to care for their children but San Diego’s rent is very high. I know many children who only eat at school. And to everyone who has fed a teenage boy, I want to remind you how much food that takes. Parents may be feeding children what they can afford and it still not be enough. Children can’t learn if they are slowly starving. What kind of future work force do we want- educated or not?

  3. I don’t understand why so many taxpayers are stingy as noted in the many comments complaining about giving food to children. If you are doing well and have never lived below the poverty line, be very thankful. Unfortunately, many others have not been as lucky as you and it’s not because they are lazy, stupid, or unwilling to work. Do you know the % of the population that works really hard to earn below the poverty line? I bet you would be surprised. They are too proud to ask for help and it’s their children that go hungry. Another question to the haters – do you realize that in order to maintain a society we need a continual supply of children growing up and becoming adults to shoulder the financial burden of society? It is to the benefit of all of us that all children are growing up healthy and well educated, not just the ones in social classes you deem worthy. We are all in this together whether you like it or not. I hope the government makes the right call and continues funding to give students easy access to food in schools.

  4. Another small step towards socialism and government control. Hillabeast, OB, and company understand radical changes towards socialism (their ultimate goal) will not fly. But they are deviously smart enough to recognize that small steps are a viable means to achieve their end of government control of everything.

    They are subtly working to strip Americans of our 2nd amendment rights: inch by inch. They will use this small step approach to everything they want to accomplish.

    Providing kids with free lunches is another small step to control of our daily lives by progressives.

    You got to be 21 in many places now to buy cigarettes, to ultimately kill yourself. That’s prohibited. But if you are an 18 yr old male, you can get drafted and kill somebody else. If you are physically mature enough, you can have a child: no training, no license required. And then you can have the government feed the kid.

    No child should be given free anything if several conditions are not met: (1) the mother must do some sort of work. (2) the father must be identified and work at least 50 hours per week to provide substantial support for the child.

    Why should tax payers foot the bill?

    The simple answer is because progressives think that the government ought to control everything. I wonder how a socialist government will take care of underfed kids and welfare mothers without the absentee fathers?

    No more free anything. Free is never.

  5. The poor can still get the free lunch. JUST FILL OUT THE VERY SIMPLE FORM AND IF YOU ARE LOW INCOME YOUR KID QUALIFIES! WHY DO US RETIRED PEOPLE HAVE TO PAY FOR ALL KIDS LUNCHES CAUSE PEOPLE ARE TOO LAZY TO PUT DOWN THEIR INCOME AND SIGN THE FORM!!!!

  6. I think that parents need to show more responsibility. Families who get food stamps are getting a lot of money each month. They can get out of bed, feed their children breakfast and pack a school lunch. Sure I do not want the kids to suffer. I have seen it time and time again. Some parents are so self centered they think only of themselves. So tired that the children were put in front of the TV while they slept or stayed in bed with their boyfriend or girlfriend. I was. single parent of four. I got up everyday with my kids. I fed them breakfast and watched and guided them during the day. Enough is enough. Parents need to “fish for their family”.

      1. Wow, so you think that most children go hungry because pf lazy parents, but can’t fathom the idea that many of these same parents are actually forced to choose between rent abd food, between gas and food, between the electric bill and food, between shoes or clothes for the family and food? Why is it that poor people are always blamed for not doing more, when in fact most work and work hard. Remember that the cost of rent, electric, food, car notes, insurance, clothing, and medical bills dont adjust to the income levels of the people paying them, and employers dont pay hourly wages or salaries based on the costsof these vital expenses, so folks make whatever they make and are forced to pay the same amount of money as everyone else regardless of income.And by the way, many poor families DON’T quality for food stamps because theyre not poor enough, and thoss who do dont all get huge amounts because it depends on income and family size. There are starving Democrats and starving Republicans, so taking shots at children for political reasons is inhumane no matter how their parents vote. I can see Jesus wth the fish and loaves of bread telling the parents in tge crowd to stop begging for handouts and justgo fishing for their own dinner. Lol, wow.

  7. this story did not cover the people using tax payer money to pay for their meals while they sit around and cut school funding

    1. I do not understand why it is the responsibility if the taxpayer to for millions of breakfasts and lunches for these kids. The parents had them and they need to feed them. Have the money deducted from their foodstamps and welfare check or make your kid a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

      1. I do not understand why it is the responsibility of the taxpayer fund millions of breakfasts and lunches for these kids. The parents had them and they need to feed them. Have the money deducted from their foodstamps and welfare check or make your kid a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

      2. Im trying to figure out if your moral compass is broken or just nonexistent. Your assumption that all of the affected students receive food stamps or welfare checks is demonstrative of your ignorance and willingness to judge without understanding. Many families dont qualify for aid or are too proud to apply for tge help they desperately need and you know why? Because they fear the ridicule and judgement from people who make comments like yours. You sound like someone who’s never worked with children and families struggling to make it, and you had a meal on your table every night that filled your belly. Hats off to you for being so fortunate in this unfortunate society we live in. But you don’t have to experience something to understand how it effects someone else. These students come to school and just want to be treated like everyone else especially at lunchtime, and bringing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day isnt always possible or desired. Remember back when you were a child and ask yourself how you would have felt if in the same position. This isn’t about poverty shaming, its about compassion and knowing that a mind cant learn if the belly is empty.

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