FRIDAY'S RESOLUTION OF the weeks long partial federal government shutdown has averted a crisis in an area long held to be a vulnerability in the public education system: the 22 million poor students who rely on the federal National School Lunch and breakfast programs for meals.
With federal employees returning to return to work and federal funds beginning to flow again, the programs are back on safe ground. But the shutdown drew attention to the uncomfortable duality of a meals program housed at public schools run by the Department of Education yet administered by the Department of Agriculture.
Federal K-12 programs were largely insulated from the shutdown because most of them are forward-funded, meaning dollars awarded each fiscal year are not tapped until the following school year. But Agriculture, which runs the National School Lunch Program and breakfast programs that cumulatively serve 30 million students, was at risk of running out of money.
"School meal programs operate on extremely tight budgets, and many lack reserve funds to continue serving students should federal funding lapse," Gay Anderson, president of the School Nutrition Association, said this week in a statement. "School districts – especially those serving America's neediest students – are simply not equipped to cover meal expenses without federal support."
Department of Agriculture officials warned that a protracted shutdown would jeopardize the programs' funding sources, saying that states had adequate funds to support school meal programs through the month of February and into March. That led nonprofit organizations like the School Nutrition Association to urge Congress and President Donald Trump to resolve the impasse before any lapse in school meal funding occurred.
A powerful coalition of education organizations representing school superintendents, principals, school boards, parents and the two national teachers unions even banded together in an unlikely alliance to draw attention to the problem. They urged Trump and congressional leadership to pass and sign a funding bill for the Department of Agriculture that the House of Representatives passed earlier this month.
"These school meal programs will provide more than 8 billion meals and snacks to low‐income families," the eight groups wrote. "The current shutdown traps these important funds in budget debates taking place right now. We strongly urge you to ensure our nation's neediest students do not go hungry in schools."
School districts around the country, and especially those close to Washington, D.C., where large swaths of the community are government employees disproportionately impacted by the shutdown, took measures to ensure their students would continue to have access to food during the school day.
This aricle is provided by By Lauren Camera, Education Reporter