Michelle’s Fitness Program and No School Lunches?

Education Ideas and Issues National Politics

child nutrition New Orleans Michelle Obama is doing a great high-profile job around children’s fitness and obesity.  These are health issues that are critical in the community and deserve full support.

But, how do we reconcile the fact that at the same time we’re reading about her initiatives here, we are also reading about children being dunned, shunned, and just about starved because here in the Great Recession they can’t come up with the dough to pay for the lunch.  This is incredible to me!  It’s also a matter of fact that children who are hungry are not able to pay attention very well in the classroom.

An article in the New York Times about the city’s efforts to collect back lunch money opened a window to some of the national dimensions of this problem:

Of the city’s 1,600 schools, 1,043 owe a collective $2.5 million to the department for meals served in the first three months of this school year. That puts them on track to be $8 million behind by the end of the school year.

New York City’s lunch money problem is costly and complicated, but not unique. The economy has school administrators all over the country scratching for savings even as more parents are falling behind in lunch fees. A September survey by the School Nutrition Association, a professional organization, showed that in 2009-10, 34 percent of school districts saw an increase from the previous school year in the number of meals not paid for.

The school district in Albuquerque was among several last year to start serving cold sandwiches and milk, instead of full hot meals, to students whose parents had not paid what they owed. In Wake County, N.C., those students may eat as many fruits and vegetables as they want, but not the rest of the lunch offerings.

In Louisiana, some districts did not feed the children whose parents were in arrears at all, until, in November, the State Legislature passed a law ordering that they be given at least a snack, while directing districts to notify child welfare authorities if a student got just a snack on more than three consecutive days. Framingham, Mass., hired a constable to hand-deliver notices to parents whose bills were still unpaid after the schools had sent them several letters alerting them to their debt.

This is all draconian!  How can we expect to really deal with childhood nutrition and obesity if we are now subjecting children to dunning at school and shaming at the lunch line.  Once upon a time it was illegal to discriminate against a child in the lunch line by marking the child as somehow second-class if receiving free or reduced price lunches.  Though this article and the rest of the drum thumping doesn’t mention that, I bet if we still have lawyers able to file class actions for the poor, they would be running into court as fast as their little legs would carry them to sue against this kind of discrimination.  Legal aid lawyers, where are you now?

I’m really embarrassed to live in Louisiana and not to have realized that a school district has to report the parents to child welfare if their child only gets a snack for 3 days running.  OMG!  The legislature in their wisdom says to arch-conservative, Republican Governor and Presidential wannabe, Bobby Jindal, that he cannot just starve the kids, so in their mercy in wisdom they give them a 2nd class snack (what might that be?  Potato chips and an apple?) and then threaten to take the children away from their parents.  Does this make economic sense?  Solve a twenty-five cents a day problem with one that would cost the state thousands in foster parent payments and medical bills later for unhealthy children with a chip on their shoulder from being shunned at the lunch line?

Who is on first?  What’s on second?

Michelle, you can’t solve one problem without solving this problem PDQ.