School meal program running out of money

January 23, 2009 5:21:49 PM PST
The money to feed kids in California public schools is running out fast as the number of children who need free or reduced-priced meals is growing.

Friday, Superintendent Jack O'Connell sounded the alarm, warning the state will run out of money to continue funding the free and reduced-meal program because more students are signing up due to the economic recession.

A Department of Education survey found that since the beginning of the school year in September, schools have seen a 12 percent increase in food demand. Typically the state has a 1 percent increase per year.

Last year schools did run out of money by May, but extra federal funds and money from school districts kept the program going.

O'Connell says this is unlikely to happen this year.

"Local school districts, school budgets are already significantly strapped and with many of the pending cuts yet to be determined in Sacramento, they simply cannot afford on their own to again incur the shortfall that currently exists in our student nutrition programs," said O'Connell.

"I think it's unbelievable. We need to serve our children. They are going to be our future citizens. In order to learn they have to eat well, and some of our children will not be able to do that if they don't have the proper nutrition," said Janis Hubbs, principal of Gardner Elementary in San Jose.

Assemblyman Tom Torlakson introduced emergency legislation to continue funding the program.

"At least $19 million is needed or we are going to see the salad bar at the back of the room in this school and across California, some of the morenutritious, some of the greater quantities of food that we know our students should have, disappear," said Torlakson.

Some schools say they will make cuts elsewhere before reducing the number of meals.