If words were calories, enough of them have already been burned panning the Senate’s recently passed Feed to Achieve Act, an ambitious measure introduced by lead sponsor Sen. John Unger and approved unanimously by state senators last Friday that will by 2015 vastly expand West Virginia public schools’ lunch and breakfast programs.
While critics have besmirched the bill as another statist intervention that ensures another generation of entitlement-addled dependents, that’s not how we read it. Of course, nothing in the bill prevents parents from whatever rung on the socioeconomic ladder from feeding their children before sending them on their way, and surely in some households that happens and will continue to happen, Feed to Achieve Act or No Feed to Achieve Act.
Instead, the bill’s purpose is to eliminate the possibility that public school students can forgo an optionally offered meal and instead mandates that schools build into their daily schedules required times to make such meals available, thereby increasing the likelihood of participation. With studies showing less than half of students eligible to partake in the free or reduced breakfast program actually participating — schools can and should do more to make those better eating choices happen.
The bill has good science behind it; students who make time for breakfast concentrate better, perform better and, in a state that leads the country in obesity rates among young people, maintain better health. The bill notes research from the Food Research and Action Center, which found that students who eat breakfast tend to have a lower body mass index and reduced chances of being overweight and obese.
Furthermore, by requiring schools to build another mealtime into their calendar day to ensure better nutrition for pupils, the bill makes the issue of who does or does not qualify under federal poverty guidelines not really the point. Of course, some students come from households that might not need the benefit, but with schools mandating, rather than offering the option for a second meal, they’re surely on surer ground by simply extending the benefit to all than they would be demanding that more of the cost be paid by each household.
Even better, by authorizing school boards to enter into partnerships with area organizations and businesses, the bill ensures the investment of a community in the well-being of its youngest members. Whatever costs might be associated with Feed to Achieve, the fact remains that there is a commensurate cost to a state peopled by overweight, unhealthy and undereducated citizens. This bill empowers communities to decide which option is the better buy.
(Editor’s note: Rob Snyder is the editor of the Spirit of Jefferson.)