Reason #157 to Better Fund School Lunches: We Shouldn’t Have to Choose Between Health and Education

October 01, 2009

By Mark Bishop, Deputy Director

Recently in The New York Times,
there was a sobering article about the current state of school funding.
It was a story of school cutbacks, increasing classroom sizes, job
losses, people being thankful for taking pay cuts. It didn't paint a
good picture for the health of our school system, let alone the state
of school health. And the punchline was that without the stimulus
funding, it would have been significantly worse.

But the line that caught my interest was a small point near the bottom of the article…

About half of the 160 school superintendents from 37 states surveyed [pdf] by the American Association of School Administrators said
that despite receiving stimulus money, they were forced to cut teachers
in core subjects. Eight out of 10 said they had cut librarians, nurses,
cooks and bus drivers.

My observation — assuming that this survey is representative of schools in
general — is that it's the non-core staff who often bear the brunt of an
economic downturn. While many schools are indeed eliminating teaching jobs, even more schools are eliminating even more jobs in other areas. When schools are losing money, it's health,
nutrition and maintenance that lose out the most.

Health and nutrition services (beyond
federal reimbursements) are being funded through the same dollars that provide education to our students. So particularly in a
large urban district that has higher levels of poverty, a loss of money in a school
food program has to be covered from a
school's general revenue.

And if health has to compete with education,
no one wins.

How can any administrator decide between cutting healthy food for kids and
laying off teachers? There is no correct answer. The setup is just
not right. It's not a question any school leader should have to ask.

I don't know what the answer is
for health services, or bus drivers or facility maintenance, but I do
know that properly funding the Child Nutrition Act at a level that enables schools to provide healthy meals will help schools that rely heavily
on federal reimbursements avoid asking these impossible questions and watching children suffer no matter which answer they chose.

Imagine a school
principal who doesn't have to worry about the school food service
program losing money and draining their education dollars. This takes
the pressure off of food programs and allows them to innovate and
create healthy meals that don't rely on junk food to make up for lost
revenue. 

While fully funding the school
lunch program won't fix the school funding problem, it will go a long
way toward ensuring that our kids have healthy meals — even in times of
financial stress and without draining dollars away from education. So with this year's
reauthorization coming up, we have an opportunity to make real, lasting change.