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“Altona Middle School-73” by You Belong In Longmont

This Arkansas Lawmaker Wants to Encourage Students to Read — By Taking Their Lunch Money

A year ago, many Americans were stunned to hear that the White House was pushing to cut federal funding for after-school programs and subsidized student meals. Worse, officials falsely claimed that such programs had no positive impact on student abilities and were, therefore, a waste of taxpayer dollars.

That was merely one of many attacks launched by conservatives in their war on free and discounted school meals. The latest, however, is perhaps one of the strangest.

A lawmaker in Arkansas recently proposed a bill which would effectively cut meal funding for schools that demonstrated poor student reading abilities.

As Arkansas state Sen. Alan Clark explains:

“My bill would require that a school district improve their reading proficiency by .0001 every 2 years. In most businesses I would be laughed at for suggesting such a small goal. But sadly many educators act like I have asked them to storm the beaches at Normandy.”

He blithely adds, “it appears I have much more faith in our schools than many of our educators do.”

Like the Trump administration before him, state Sen. Clark appears to fundamentally misunderstand the purpose — not to mention the benefits — of giving public school students access to meals they may otherwise lack.

Besides the fact that success in education cannot be compared to success in business, punishing students for their shortcomings by taking their food away is not only utterly backwards, it’s downright Dickensian. It would be akin to punishing the operators of the bus line for failing to regularly accommodate a large volume of passengers by reducing the number of buses in operation.

Scientific and economic studies have found, time and time again, that the benefits of ensuring access to nutrition for growing children are undeniable. Apparently feeding hungry children isn’t worthy of merit on its own.

The first such study on the subject, conducted in 1988, demonstrated that even spending a mere $1 a day per student for breakfasts in Boston directly resulted in a higher levels of academic achievement, ultimately creating a far greater return for the costs.

In the 30 years since that study, additional research has confirmed these findings among groups of students in other school systems, using a variety of methods. In 2017, a study by economists from the University of California discovered a clear pattern of standardized test improvement among students who were given access to free or discounted meals at school.

The Centers for Disease Control has also concluded that school meals promote student health and result in better “academic performance, education behavior, cognitive skills and attitudes.” School meals also lead to lower numbers of students being held back a grade for poor test scores.

It costs roughly $10,615 per year to send a child through public school. By comparison, the federal government spends $367 dollars annually per student on school meals — a mere 3.5 percent of the cost of schooling itself. That’s a small investment for such a huge return.

This was originally published on Care2.com on March 4, 2019.

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Writing about various things (mostly politics & social issues) for more than six years. Freelancer for hire.

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