Ensuring students don't go hungry

December 3, 2008 7:36:54 PM PST
The governor and state legislature's plan to solve California's 28 billion dollar budget shortfall is likely to impact schools statewide. And it may mean hungry kids in the classroom. With another 3 billion dollar cut to education on the table school districts may have to find other places to cut their own budgets. State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O'Connell, fears it will come at the expense of feeding children.The latest state figures show increased numbers of youngsters relying on free or reduced price school meals as one or more of their daily meals. At least one central valley school district says it isn't worried about continuing those daily free meals and that's good news for children and families.

Take the Yokomi elementary school in downtown Fresno. We dropped in at lunch time to find a bustling campus and well run lunch room with smiling faces and good behavior. On the menu: a chicken sandwich with lettuce and pickle, peaches, cheese crackers and low fat milk. They were served up over 3 and a half lunch periods to eight hundred students. Every one of those 8 hundred kids are eligible for free breakfast and free lunch. That says principal Steve Gonzalez is very important, "Any cutbacks, whether for breakfast or for lunch, especially in this central part of Fresno Unified where the poverty is the greatest concentration in the united states, is gonna have significant negative impact on children."

Yokomi school isn't alone in the need to feed kids from poor and recession struggling families. During the 2007-2008 school year the central valley's six counties saw an increase of 1-million-250 thousand, 6-hundred 25 free or reduced price meals.

During this current school year, 2008-2009 the state's earlier budget crisis left Fresno Unified short 15 million dollars. That loss in state revenue did not affect the classroom according to Ruth Quinto the district's Associate Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer, "We were able to offset that with reductions through a combination of cuts here at the central office in administration and as well as utilizing a small percentage of the reserve that we have as well." The same plan she added will serve to deal with any additional mid-budget cuts from state lawmakers. And it won't mean fewer free meals either because the district's Cafeteria Fund' also has a nest egg, "There are sufficient reserves in the Cafeteria Fund to be able to sustain us for several years in our breakfast and lunch programs."

That is welcome news for these young students where half them also eat breakfast here. California is certainly facing uncharted waters in this current financial storm but kids have always done better in classroom with a full stomach.

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