Last week, the state Senate Select Committee on Children and Poverty unanimously put forward its first bill -- the Feed to Achieve Act. The full Senate approved it two days later.
We hope the House of Delegates passes this humane proposal just as readily because it would fill gaps in existing efforts to make sure West Virginia children are fed and healthy.
The bill would allow county school systems and the state to collect private donations from individuals, corporations or others to provide food to children who need it, starting with elementary schools. All funds collected must go to buy food. Administrative costs must be absorbed by school systems or volunteers.
The bill would also require school systems to work toward serving breakfast and lunch to all students and to adopt new ways of serving breakfast that result in more students actually eating it. For late youngsters, those may include "grab-and-go" packages or breakfast served later in the morning.
"An effective school breakfast program is not an interruption of the school day; it is an integral and vital part of the school day," the bill says.
Students who eat breakfast at school have higher test scores, better attendance, less tardiness, better behavior, improved academic and emotional functioning and improved nutrition, the bill says. Yet, on the average day during the 2011-12 school year, fewer than half of students eligible for free breakfast actually received one, and only a third of students eligible for a reduced-price breakfast received one.
For schools with a high proportion of poor students, federal reimbursement rates will cover the cost of more meals served. Schools with fewer children who qualify for free and reduced lunch receive smaller subsidies. Those schools could draw from the new fund to make up needed money.
"This bill is not to take the place of anything we have now," said Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, chairman of the Select Committee.
Parents who can afford to pay their child's school lunch bill would continue to do so. But by making the free, reduced or "full" price categories invisible to students, schools can remove a stigma that dissuades some students and their parents from signing up and keeps some children from getting much needed nutrition.
Schools may also use the funds to provide food to needy children over holidays and weekends, a growing need as low- and middle-income families have lost jobs and food security.
At a committee meeting last week, state schools Superintendent Jim Phares and representatives from the state Department of Agriculture, the state Chamber of Commerce and Automobile and Truck Dealers Association all spoke in favor of the bill.Child poverty is debilitating. It stunts the development of not only children and their families, but also communities and the state. The Senate Select Committee on Children and Poverty has outlined an achievable solution to part of the problem.