WASHINGTON, D.C. – Dependence on the National School Breakfast Program increased significantly in the 2015-16 school year, a sad reality that the Food and Research Action Center attributes to changes during the Obama administration.
A Community Eligibility Provision added to the national school breakfast and lunch programs during Obama’s tenure allows any school or district with at least 40 percent low-income students to offer meals “free” for all, with reimbursements from the federal government.
The Food Research and Action Center reports:
Nationally, on an average day during the 2015–2016 school year, 12.1 million students eligible to receive free and reduced-price school meals participated in school breakfast, an increase of 3.7 percent, or nearly 433,000 children from the previous school year. …
Nationally, on an average school day, 56 low-income children participated in the School Breakfast Program for every 100 participating in the National School Lunch Program, up from 54.3 the previous school year and 50.4 percent in the 2011–2012 school year. …
The Community Eligibility Provision, which rolled out nationally in the 2014–2015 school year, also is proving to be an effective strategy for driving growth in school breakfast participation. It allows school meals to be served free of charge to all students at high-poverty schools. By spring 2016, there were more than 18,000 high-poverty schools, serving 8.6 million children, offering breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students.
In other words, the federal government has relieved nearly 433,000 families from making meals, including many who do not necessarily need the help and wouldn’t have qualified for the “free” meals without Obama’s Community Eligibility Provision.
The Food and Research Action Center framed the growing government dependence as a good thing.
“The Community Eligibility Provision has created a huge new opportunity,” Crystal Fitzsimons, a director at the Center, told The Washington Post. “It’s important both in terms of making sure breakfast is free and available to all kids, and making it easier for schools to adopt alternative models of serving breakfast.”
The Community Eligibility was included in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, changes to federal school food regulations championed by former first lady Michelle Obama. The rules imposed strict restrictions on calories, fat, sugar, salt, and other nutritional elements of school food that convinced more than 1.4 million students to quit the program. Students revolted online, as well, with parody videos, petitions, boycotts and pictures of their gruesome lunches to social media next to the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama.
The regulations also contributed to a $1 billion annual spike in school food waste as more students dumped their government-mandated greens in the garbage.
The House Freedom Caucus and other conservatives are now calling on Congress and President Trump to repeal the changes, both because of the backlash from students and schools and the added cost of dishing out free meals to students who do not truly need them.
School officials are also pointing out that the Community Eligibility Provision isn’t exactly the best idea for all school districts.
Spokane schools nutrition services director Doug Wordell told the Spokesman-Review that the three local elementary schools that utilize the provision lost $60,000 in state education funding as a result.
From the Spokesman-Review:
Between the three schools about 1,500 Spokane students currently utilize the program. Although the program has proved useful in some ways, Wordell said, it also has caused problems. Specifically, the three schools lost about $60,000 in education funding. That happened because once the meals were provided for free, families had no incentive to return surveys to the school – surveys which the schools needed to report to the state to qualify for other forms of education funding.
“It sounds really good on the surface, but the backside is your school could lose education funding,” Wordell said, adding later, “It’s a hit and miss. There are benefits because it streamlines parts of the program.”