Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

OPINION EDITORIAL
Monday, July 1, 2002
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez, Press Secretary
512-463-0127

Breakfast/Lunch Initiative can be difference between health and illness/success and poor grades for our school children

Much has been said and written lately about my proposal to provide a free breakfast and lunch to all the public school children of Texas, and how we will fund it.

I would like to set the record straight and further the discussion of my Breakfast/Lunch Initiative.

Certain radio talk show hosts have accused me of suggesting another free handout to those less fortunate in my district. This new program is not for the benefit of the students in my district. Already 90 percent of them qualify for a free breakfast/lunch program, which is funded both by state and federal dollars.

No! My proposal has nothing to do with assisting needy children in my district and everything to do with the health and education of all the children of Texas.

It's amazing that we spend thousands of dollars a year on the maintenance of our automobiles, so that they will run well for many years. But when someone suggests we spend money on the maintenance of our children, all of a sudden critics unknowingly call it another welfare program, and everyone questions how we are going to pay for it.

My initiative is exactly that--preventive maintenance for our children. We want our children to be alert and healthy in the classroom, and a hungry child will not meet those goals. And with obesity and diabetes occurring at an alarming rate among our children statewide, I want to ensure that children eat two nutritional meals per day. Many are just not eating the right foods. Approximately one-third of African American fourth grade students and one-third of Hispanic boys in the fourth, eighth, and eleventh grades are overweight.

If the prevalence of overweight children in Texas continues to increase, the incidence of chronic disease will accelerate, especially Type 2 diabetes, and Texas will need to prepare for exponentially increasing medical costs.

By providing a breakfast and lunch for all children instead of allowing them to eat unhealthy snacks and meals, we can ensure them two meals a day that meet the federal government's nutritional standards. I am also interested in creating a task force that evaluates the nutritional content of school cafeteria food in Texas as it relates to diabetes and obesity.

National studies have already indicated that children who eat breakfast have a greater attention span, report fewer illnesses, behave more appropriately, have reduced tardiness and show measurably improved test scores. Unfortunately, in many families today, both parents must work. Hectic and early morning schedules prevent many parents from preparing nutritional breakfasts or ensuring that lunch money is spent wisely.

Many question if providing meals is the role of the schools. I counter by asking if providing computers, sports, band, or free counseling and nurse services is also the role of schools? Yes. If we want a well-educated citizenry who is also healthy, we should consider a holistic approach to educating our children. We will gain in terms of training our children to become responsible adults who can work and contribute to society. Sick, poorly educated citizens drain society of resources and will end up costing us more than school meals.

One of many funding proposals I am exploring is a tax on soft drinks. Yet it is definitely not the only option I am researching. What better benefit can we get from our tax or any other dollars than--Healthy Children and Educated Children.

Recently, a Rio Grande Valley newspaper ran an editorial cartoon showing me taxing the soft drink industry, who in turn passes the tax to the consumer. I would be kidding myself if I said that was not going to happen--but in the long run it will be the consumer who benefits from it the most.

Parents would no longer have to give their children money for lunch each day. I don't have school- age children anymore, but I would estimate that today it costs roughly $2 a day for a child to buy lunch. For180 school days, $2 a day equals $360 a year. The parents of one child would have to drink an awful lot of sodas to equal that $360 in tax.

The Austin American-Statesman recently reported that Coca-Cola has contracts with school districts that pay them millions of dollars a year to put their coke machines on campuses. In addition to these lucrative contracts, the soda companies also provide in-kind donations like score boards. It is difficult to believe that Coca Cola and other soft drink companies are not passing on these costs to the consumer.

I have no hidden agenda on my proposed initiative, except the health of our children and a better opportunity for a solid education. This is also not a partisan issue either, as some would have the public believing. But we must take action now, before we have generations of unhealthy adults as a result of our refusal to take action while they were children.

This is a win-win situation for everyone involved--especially the children.

I welcome input from the people of Texas concerning this issue. Please e-mail me with your thoughts at eddie.lucio@senate.state.tx.us, or phone my Capitol office at 512-463-0127.

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