More than half of teachers said they did not like the free breakfast program provided for needy students in Los Angeles schools, according to a recent survey by the local United Teachers Los Angeles.
According to the Los Angeles Times, 52 percent of the 729 teachers polled complained the free meals created problems for the school day, contributing to messes, insects and rodents, and a subsequent loss of instructional time. The program was launched in the district in 2011 in an effort to improve student focus, attendance, and general well being—goals the district reports are being attained with the program.
Currently, more than 200,000 students at 274 schools are getting the free breakfasts, with plans to expand the program to 676 schools in the next few years.
The national free-breakfast initiative, supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides financial assistance to schools and other organizations to serve unprivileged students the first meal of the day. The USDA also backs the well-known free and reduced-price lunch program during the school day, the after-school snack program in out-of-school hours, and the summer food-service program when school is not in session.
According to the Food Research and Action Center, an advocacy group, 12.5 million students and nearly 89,600 schools participated in the breakfast program in the 2011-12 school year. Around 50 of every 100 children who receive free and reduced-price lunches are also served breakfast, FRAC found.
While the program’s demand has grown in recent years, so has criticism of its structure, mimicking those gripes aired recently in Los Angeles. Other complaints have also surfaced that the food is not healthy, and the program allows students who have eaten at home to eat breakfast twice, as reported by my colleague Nirvi Shah.
Still others have pushed to expand such food-assistance programs, seen recently in West Virginia, which may become the first state to provide free breakfast and lunch to all K-12 students per requirements of a new bill passed in the state legislature. According to an article in the West Virginia Gazette, some Republican opponents of the bill said free meals encouraged student laziness, while Democrats argued of its necessity to combat student hunger.
“Delegate Ray Canterbury, R-Greenbrier, predicted the program could set up children for failure, ‘destroying their work ethic’ and ‘showing them there’s an easy way,’” as reported in The Gazette. “Canterbury suggested that students ‘work for their lunches’ by mowing lawns and taking out trash at schools.”
According to FRAC, 21.9 percent of children younger than 18 (or 16.1 million) were living in poverty in 2011, and 7.3 million (or 9.8 percent) of all children younger thn18 lived in families with incomes below 50 percent of the federal poverty level.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Beyond School blog.