First Grade Teacher Juliane Link-Oberstar says every day she sees what happens when children are hungry at school…
“They’re not focusing, they’re complaining about their stomach hurting, they seem to not have very much energy, they have their heads down on their desk, they complain about head aches, stomaches.”
State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell says now more than three-point-one million kids--half the state’s school children—are enrolled in the free and reduced price meal program. The federal government provides most of the funding. But O’Connell says what the state chips in is crucial. He says in the last school year state funds ran out. That’s as a result of more kids in the program, higher costs and the state’s increased nutritional standards.
“In order to guarantee fresh fruit, fresh vegetables that we can provide the meals in a hot warm environment, we need to make sure the state supplement, subsidy continues. Otherwise we have really made a commitment to school districts that we’re not keeping.”
Stephanie Bruce is the President of the California School Nutrition Association. She also works in the Ontario-Montclair School District in Southern California. She says students in need aren’t turned away so she looks for how to cut back—including offering fresh produce fewer days a week. She says there’s no doubt the need is great.
“The students I see every day sometimes it’s the only meal they get. On Monday morning my kids are lined up around the building to get breakfast because they haven’t eaten.”
State Schools Chief O’Connell says he anticipates California’s funding for the program will fall short again this school year. He plans to ask the Governor and legislature for another 31 million dollars to cover the costs. But that’s a time when the state is facing a 28 billion dollar budget shortfall over the next year and a half.