Budget squeeze threatens student lunches

December 2, 2008 11:00:14 PM PST
The recession is threatening to literally take food away from hungry school children in California.

A record number of students are now getting free or subsidized lunches but the state doesn't have enough money to keep paying for them.

Schools may have to make some very difficult choices.

"We will again run out of money," said School Superintendent Jack O'Connell Tuesday.

In yet another grim indication of the state's economic downturn, funding for free and reduced-priced meals for low-income children at public schools will run dry well before the academic year ends.

The bad news comes at a time when more kids need the program because their parents have lost their jobs.

"We know that even if you have a computer on every desk, the school is made of gold. That if that student goes to school hungry, that student will not be able to learn more," said O'Connell

The federal government and California share the cost.

Last year local administrators scrambled to find money for the final months of school as demand jumped by 28 million meals statewide.

This year dipping into their bare-bones budget isn't an option.

School districts have already seen a $3 billion funding cuts from Sacramento. And, because the state's financial situation is worsening they are slated to see another $2 billion less on top of that.

Clara Santos worries cheaper junk food will be served or her two sons will be cut off completely.

"Taking it out would be like taking away some of their books or some of their computers," she said.

More than half of California's public school students use this program. That's 3.1 million.

For many, this is the only nutritious meal they'll eat.

"I like the healthy food they give me here," said first-grader Giovanni Chagolla-Herrera.

When asked if he could get the food at home the boy smirked and replied, "No."

With the state running out of cash, school districts may have to choose between classroom supplies and feeding their students.

"It's a cruel irony now that as the economy gets worse we have more people forced into poverty," said Los Angeles Assemblyman and Appropriations Chairman Kevin DeLeon.


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