Commentary

NC public schools fight childhood hunger: Let’s hope the Right doesn’t find out

The latest NC Budget and Tax Center Prosperity Watch report is out and the subject is extremely timely: childhood hunger and some promising North Carolina public school initiatives to attack it. Let’s hope the programs highlighted in the report are nurtured and allowed  to grow. As has been reported on these page in previous years, local conservative think tanks with regular access to the ears of legislative leaders have long railed against supposed “waste” in school lunch programs and the idea — gasp! — that some hungry kids may get fed on occasion even when their families incomes aren’t always below the miserly official levels for eligibility.

Happily, as the report appears to indicate, public officials appear finally to be waking up to the reality that feeding hungry school children — whatever their family income levels — is never a bad thing.

N.C. schools adopt innovative breakfast programs to fight student hunger

It’s back to school time, which means that more than 1.5 million school-age children across North Carolina will enter public school classrooms each school day. While much of the discussion regarding North Carolina’s public schools often highlights what is missing and the various barriers to every student receiving a high-quality education, there are positive and promising things about our public schools that warrant attention.

Schools serve as community assets that not only teach students to read, write, and do math, but they also help address other barriers – such as access to health services and food insecurity – that impede the development of healthy, vibrant, and smart students.

The importance of the role that schools play in addressing child hunger is clear. One out of every 6 North Carolina households, and 1 in 5 North Carolina children, face food insecurity, meaning these families do not have access to adequate food needed to ensure that children are healthy, academically successful, and have sufficient early childhood development. For our public schools, this translates into more than half of North Carolina students returning to school this year being eligible for subsidized school meals.

To ensure that more students start their school day with food in their stomach, more than 700 schools across the state have adopted innovative breakfast delivery programs. Initiatives such as Breakfast in the ClassroomGrab ‘N Go, and Second Chance Breakfast aim to bridge “access” and “participation” in regards to students eating school breakfast. Read more

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget

If we care about our children, why do we lunch shame?

Have you ever watched an 11-year-old, short a dollar, pleading with the cafeteria worker to “please let me pay you back” in order to avoid the embarrassment of handing back over his hot meal?

I have. And it’s heartbreaking.

This school year, a Buncombe County elementary school made headlines when a student was threatened with being excluded from the school’s field day as punishment for unpaid lunch debt. While this particular incident gained national attention, “lunch shaming” – the practice of punishing or embarrassing students who do not have enough money for lunch – is prevalent in schools across the state and nation.

In far too many schools, it is common practice to shame children for failing to come up with the $2 or so that a hot meal at lunch costs. In many cases, their meals are thrown away and children are forced to eat an alternative (often a cold sandwich). In some of the more extreme cases, students are forced to work off their debts. Using shame by distinguishing them from their peers who are able to pay is not acceptable. And in many situations, children avoid the embarrassment altogether by skipping meals.

This year, the NC Senate’s budget proposed eliminating categorical eligibility in SNAP (formally known as food stamps), which threatened free and reduced lunches for up to 51,000 children. State legislators have not only failed to address the issue of childhood hunger, they have actively taken steps to make it worse.

Our leaders are also missing the larger picture, to the detriment of our communities and children. If we, as a state, value the health and well-being of our children, we should be focusing on how to ensure that no child, anywhere, is ever hungry.

Thankfully, there are policies that can help us to achieve this goal. One way is to make sure that food and nutrition services in schools are not based on receipts alone but are funded fully. House Bill 891 sought to make school breakfast and lunch available, free of cost, to any child who wanted it. Other states such as New Mexico have passed legislation to prevent lunch shaming and to prioritize feeding children.

At the federal level a policy that allows for universal provision of breakfast called community eligibility is available to North Carolina school districts.  More than 700 schools in North Carolina participated and even more are eligible for the program.

It’s time that we take the fight against childhood hunger seriously.

In North Carolina, 1 in 6 households with children are food insecure, making school lunches a critical source of nutrition for many students. Denying children of a nutritious meal, for whatever reason, is not in line with our state’s values.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Two innovative programs that fight child hunger and promote learning

Ensuring that children begin each school day with food in their stomach is an important component of providing a high quality education to all North Carolina students. Combating child hunger helps address the unfortunate reality that 1 in 5 North Carolina children do not have reliable access to an adequate amount of affordable, nutritious food each day, which threatens their classroom learning experiences, well-being and life outcomes.

More than half of the more than 1.4 million students that attended North Carolina’s public schools for the 2015-16 school year qualified for free or reduced cost school meals – that’s around 749,000 students. However, far too many students don’t eat school meal programs for several reasons, such as a lack of time, the stigma associated with the traditional delivery method that schools use to serve school meals, and a lack of awareness about school meal programs.

Two particular anti-hunger initiatives have come to North Carolina in recent years that aim to increase the number of students eating school meals. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) initiative enables eligible schools that serve a high concentration of low-income students to offer a healthy school breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students. Furthermore, the Partners for Breakfast In Classroom (PBIC) initiative provides grants to eligible school to adopt breakfast delivery programs that allow students to eat school breakfast in the classroom after the first bell. The Budget & Tax Center is a state partner in the PBIC initiative. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Making sure students aren’t hungry should be a top priority for N.C.

The healthy development of children is essential to building and sustaining a prosperous society.  Still, 1 in 5 North Carolina children face food insecurity each day, which threatens their well-being and life outcomes.  Nationally, North Carolina is the 8th most food insecure state in the country, with 1 out of every 6 households being food insecure – meaning these families do not access to food, which is needed to ensure their child is healthy, academically successful, and has sufficient early childhood development.

Food insecure households with children are more likely to have trouble with providing adequate food for the family. For children, poor nutrition is associated with anxiety, diet-related diseases, learning difficulties, health problems, and other poor health outcomes that can affect them throughout their K-12 education journey and as they grow into adulthood.

Addressing North Carolina’s persistent food insecurity challenge requires deliberate attention to the role, design and impact of federal, state and local initiatives that aim to ensure access to food for everyone in communities across the state. The positive link between the health of students and their academic achievement is an opportunity we much seize upon and leverage as a state. Children who eat breakfast perform better on standardized tests and have better concentration in class, increased alertness, improved comprehension, improved memory, and improved learning.

Here are some of the ways in which public policy and initiatives can work to combat child hunger and assist educators with improving the learning outcomes of students. Read more

Back to School Series, NC Budget and Tax Center

Back to School: Food for the stomach, food for the mind

This is the fourth of a Back to School blog series (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 5) that highlight various issues to be aware of as the 2016-17 school year kicks off.

Ensuring that students arrive to class with enough food in their stomach is an important ingredient for student success. Adequate nutrition reduces the negative effects of hunger on a student’s academic performance and behavior in school and promotes other positive outcomes.

Access to adequate nutrition is a vital support service that contributes to a high quality education. This is accomplished largely through school meal programs – breakfast and lunch meals – which are available to students during the school day. The state’s uneven economic recovery has left many North Carolina’s workers and their families more vulnerable, and food insecurity is a reality for many students and families across the state.

Half of North Carolina’s public school students qualify for free or reduced school meals, which highlights that a significant number of students reside in low- and moderate-income households that face persistent economic challenges. Moreover, one out of every five children in North Carolina attends a high-poverty school – defined as a school in which 75 percent or more of students are eligible for the federal subsidized school lunch program. Among students of color, that number is one in three. With more than 1.5 million students in public schools, that means that many of our schools serve a large number of economically disadvantaged students.

Recognizing the connection between adequate nutrition and student success, many North Carolina schools have taken steps to boost access to school meals. Last school year, more than 750 schools across the state participated in a nation-wide Community Eligibility initiative, which provides school meals to all students free of charge. With nearly 60 percent of eligible schools participating in this initiative, this is promising progress to build upon and expand access to nutrition to more students.

Other opportunities exists that would help ensure that students arrive to class fed and ready to learn. State lawmakers can boost state funding for child nutrition programs, which would allow for more federal dollars to flow to the state for child nutrition. As are result, these additional state and federal dollars would free up local funds that are now used to cover costs related to school meal programs – these dollars could now be directed to the classroom. Furthermore, increasing participation in school breakfast programs offers a promising return on investment. Research shows that children who eat breakfast – closer to class and test-taking time – perform better on standardized tests than those who skip breakfast or eat breakfast at home.

As we embark upon a new school year, we should consider access to adequate nutrition a core component of a quality education. Greater support at the state level can help make sure that schools have the resources needed to provide a quality education for all students, which includes access to adequate nutrition.