Calif. legislator wants free water on school menus

A bill that would require school cafeterias to offer free drinking water is now on Gov.Schwarzenegger's desk.

September 20, 2010 6:34:41 PM PDT
There's apparently a drought on California campuses.

In an era when soda sales are banned on campuses, students in about half of the public schools across California do not have access to drinking water in their cafeteria.

At Oakland's McClymond's High School, they give out bottled water. Like so many other schools, the nearest water fountain is outside the building several feet away. But many schools are not as generous.

"They just haven't thought about having water available. Lots of schools and lots of kids depended on the sugar sweetened beverages for a long time," Kenneth Hecht from California Food Policy Advocates said.

A bill is on Schwarzenegger's desk that requires schools to provide water with meals by next July. He will likely sign it because he's the one pushing the mandate. It doesn't have to be bottled water -- tap water is fine.

While all schools want to provide free drinking water, some wonder how they'll pay for things like water pitchers and even paper cups. Los Angeles Unified, for example, is grappling with a $640 million deficit.

Not to mention, the Southern California district also has to deal with unsafe lead levels in many of its drinking fountains.

Oakland Unified, though, spends thousands of dollars a year on bottled water because it's not feasible to construct a water fountain in older buildings in every school.

While milk and juice are available, budget-busting, cold water is popular.

"It is expensive. As I said, it's right. The kids really need it. If we have to, we make adjustments on other areas in order for us to be able to provide it to them," Cassaundra Alderson from Oakland Unified Nutrition Services said.

Even providing bottled water may not be the right answer.

"We want to get away from those small bottles, they're expensive and damaging the world. We want to get into free tap water where possible," Hecht said.

Water helps hydrate kids while they focus on academics and helps build the right habits while they're young.


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