Republican state senator Alan Clark of Arkansas is telling under-performing schools to give him their lunch money.
Clark proposed a bill that would penalize low literacy rates in schools by reducing that school’s “national school lunch funding.” The idea being, apparently, that this puts money on the line to incentivize those schools to perform better.
Clark’s proposal would cut a “secondary funding mechanism” based on a school’s participation in the National School Lunch Act program, and not the program itself which is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service.
The funding identifies schools in poverty using these statistics and provides added assistance. Clark would take that assistance away. Poorer districts often struggle as it is to keep students in a safe and receptive condition to learn, and lunches are part of that package whether directly or indirectly impacted.
School lunches improve the learning environment for children and, therefore, reducing their funding would not produce a net benefit to struggling students.
“Children are growing, so they are in an anabolic state: Muscle is being built; bone is being built; the brain is developing,” said certified child nutrition epidemiologist Sibylle Kranz. “If you take a 5-year-old, by the time that child is 12, that child has doubled its size.”
This means children have dietary needs that adults necessarily don’t, and failing to meet these needs has different effects on children than it would on adults.
“There is pretty solid evidence that children who are hungry are not able to focus, so they have a low attention span, behavioral issues, discipline issues in the school,” she said. “So having children who are well-fed and not hungry makes a difference in their individual performance and also how much they are contributing or disrupting the classroom situation.”
Laquita Chalmers is an Arkansas parent of four. One of her children has struggled recently in learning to read. She understands Sen. Clark’s aim, but fails to see how cutting funding will help her child.
“I don’t understand, and hopefully that bill won’t get passed in Arkansas,” said Chalmers. “I don’t see any connection in that.”
Explaining the connection between further stressing an impoverished district and learning to read wasn’t really part of Clark’s response to criticism of his proposal.
“I am not new to controversy. You don’t get anything important done without confrontation and taking a few knocks,” said Clark. “Seeing that Arkansas children can read is worth a few bruises.”
Clark instead argued that his standard for improvement is so low it essentially amounted to not letting performance slip. He would penalize schools for not improving literacy at a rate of 0.0001 percent over two years.
“In most businesses I would be laughed at for suggesting such a small goal,” he said. “But sadly many educators act like I have asked them to storm the beaches at Normandy.”
Clark complained that it was partisan politics fanning the flames at his legislation’s expense.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.