Groups lobby for – and win – changes to feeding program
by Dale Mezzacappa
Activists who have long pressed the District to enhance its feeding programs are pushing changes in policy that they say will result in students eating more free meals at school.
Community Legal Services (CLS) and Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), want Superintendent Arlene Ackerman to include a school’s participation rate in the school breakfast program as an indicator on the new school report card.
“We’ve upped the ante to say there should be principal accountability,” said Jonathan Stein of CLS. Ackerman is expected to decide in September.
Last year the groups discovered that schools with similar demographics varied widely in how many students ate the breakfasts to which they were entitled. Some principals complained that logistics were too difficult; some made sure students ate breakfast on testing days only. Others did all they could to provide breakfast.
The groups also helped save Philadelphia’s unique “universal feeding” program, under which all students in schools with high poverty rates get free meals without having to qualify individually. The U.S. Department of Agriculture wanted to end the program, but CLS and PCCY enlisted the help of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation to save it and perhaps expand it to other cities.
“We’re waiting to see what will happen with the Child Nutrition Act, to make sure universal feeding is there” on a permanent basis, said Kathy Fisher of PCCY.
The groups are addressing other issues, including whether charter schools are providing the meals to eligible students.
On a related note, District spokesman Fernando Gallard said that fried foods are being banned from school meals this year.