A report by local Washington D.C. news station NBC4 indicates that over 60,000 low-income students in the metro area are skipping lunch, dissatisfied with the food offered to them by their schools.
In Fairfax County, Virginia, which contains much of D.C.’s Virginia suburbs, 16 percent of students eligible for free lunch don’t eat on a typical day. In Washington itself, the figure is 24 percent. In Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland, over a quarter of low-income students don’t eat lunch per day.
The kids’ failure to eat is costing the schools big money, as they lose $3 in federal subsidies every time a student on free lunch forgoes taking a meal. That’s $180,000 a day, adding up to over $32 million in a school year lasting approximately 180 days. School officials say the lost subsidies are straining their budgets, as they need the money to pay for healthier food options mandated by Congress.
It isn’t new information that many children are rejecting the food offered them. A January report from the Government Accountability Office suggested that many students were rejecting healthier lunches because they did not enjoy the food offered. Another suggested factor was that students avoided eating a free lunch because they would be stigmatized as poor.
First lady Michelle Obama has been aggressively promoting healthier lunches in the nation’s schools in an attempt to lower childhood obesity. At a roundtable discussion Tuesday at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, she decried efforts to roll back the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 as “unacceptable.”
“The last thing we can afford right now is to play politics with our kids’ health,” Obama said.
Her efforts are starting to run afoul of the nation’s school boards. A letter sent to Congress Tuesday by the National School Boards Association, which represents over 14,000 school districts nationwide, begs Congress to grant schools more leeway to receive waivers from federal nutrition standards.
Congress may attempt to reduce pressure on schools as part of the process of marking up the 2015 budget for the Department of Agriculture, which administers school lunch programs.
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