House Panel Blocks G.O.P. Riders, Clears Child-Nutrition Bill for Vote
Washington--Heading off numerous Republican amendments to freeze or cut federal spending for child-nutrition programs, the House Education and Labor Committee last week approved a bill that would increase the programs' $5.3-billion budget by $119 million in fiscal 1986.
Although the legislation, HR 7, is similar to that passed earlier this month by the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education, the Democratic-controlled committee added $19 million worth of new provisions. (See Education Week, May 8, 1985.)
The bill was approved by a voice vote. Committee aides said they did not know when the entire House would vote on it.
The new version of the bill would add $15 million to allow kindergartens participating in the national school-lunch or breakfast program to join a supplementary milk program; add $3 million to allow private schools participating in the school-lunch program to raise their tuition ceiling from $1,500 to $2,500; and would authorize $1 million to allow schools to purchase new food-services equipment.
The committee defeated an amendment introduced by Representative Steve Bartlett, Republican of Texas, that would have reduced funding for the child-nutrition programs by $400 million.
The Reagan Administration, which initially requested a $700-million cut in the programs, is now also requesting a $400-million reduction.
Representative Bartlett's amendment, like the Administration's proposal, would have eliminated the 12-cent federal lunch subsidy available to all students whose parents earn more than 185 percent of the poverty level. It was rejected by a vote of 27 to 5.
Currently, the federal government provides a 24-cent per-pupil subsidy--half in cash and half in commodities--covering all middle-income students.
Schools May Drop Out
Representative William D. Ford, Democrat of Michigan, warned that many schools may drop out of the program if the subsidy to middle-income students is eliminated.
Schools that enroll a large proportion of children whose families earn under 185 percent of the poverty level, and are therefore eligible for free and reduced-price meals, will still participate because they will continue to receive the federal subsidy, he said.
However, those with a relatively small proportion of such students may chose to leave the program if the middle-income subsidies are eliminated, he cautioned, because many students will drop out of the program, making it no longer economically feasible for schools to participate in it.
Schools are not required, under federal law, to provide free or reduced-price meals unless they volunteer to participate in the national school-lunch program. About 233million children participate in the program nationwide.
'Doesn't Mean Anything'
"A chit for a free or reduced-price lunch doesn't mean anything if a school doesn't provide it," Representative Ford said.
The House bill would also reauthorize five child-nutrition programs; provide a 6-cent increase in the reimbursement for each school breakfast served; and increase the $1.5-billion Women, Infants, and Children (wic) program by $60 million.
Last week, the Senate approved a measure--introduced by Senator Paula Hawkins, Republican of Florida, as an amendment to the budget--to freeze school-lunch subsidies at current levels. No legislation similar to HR 7 has been introduced in the Senate.