Lunch is important meal for students across Minnesota

While Minnesota’s school children are on vacation, their school food service managers are keeping their fingers crossed, hoping the federal school lunch program funding will not be changed.

Research suggests that kids learn better in school when their hunger is satisfied. In an article in Extension magazine, researchers say that data suggests children with good nutrition are better able to learn, have fewer absences and demonstrate improved behavior.

So far, so good. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has relaxed some of the nutritional standards, but there is no indication that the school lunch program will not be funded. Perdue did say that the school lunch program is under review, since President Donald Trump’s administration budget proposal would cut the U.S. Department of Agriculture budget by 21 percent. This is significant because the department is responsible for nutrition programs.

Congress is on the verge of passing a new five-year Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, since the old one has expired, although the provisions of that act are still intact.

The House of Representatives has proposed a pilot program to give states a block grant for school lunches instead of one based on student need, but so far that has not passed.

Continuing the school lunch program is good news for the 842,000 K-12 students in Minnesota who benefit from federally subsidized school lunches.

The federal government funds an estimated 38 cents for paid meals, $2.93 for reduced-price meals and $3.33 for free meals, according to the USDA.

The Minnesota Department of Education reports that 329,000 students in the state qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

The Minnesota Legislature in 2014 passed a law that pays for free breakfasts for all kindergarteners, according to MDE officials.

Schools can offer free meals to all students if 40 percent of students in the schools qualify under income guidelines. Some Congressional Republicans are suggesting that percentage should be changed to 60 percent.

In Minnesota, students cannot be denied lunch. If they don’t have the money to pay for it they can receive a brown-bag lunch with enough food to get by for the day. Some food service managers add fruit and some veggies for the lunch or allow students to have free lunches paid for by a source like the PTA.

The federal government has just issued guidelines for school districts on dealing with students who are behind on their school lunch payments. They require each school district to adopt policies requiring them to inform the parents who have any delinquent accounts when school starts.

You can count on food service managers to make sure that their students are well fed and ready to learn.
Meanwhile, the program is funded for this school year, and it is too popular with legislators who realize that feeding school children is good politics.

Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers.