Senator Lucio's Letterhead

CAPITOL UPDATE FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 19, 2009
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez, Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0385

Bills Would Increase Participation in Children's School Food Programs

Austin, TX — In his ongoing efforts to address childhood obesity and nutrition, State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. announced today he has filed three bills to increase child participation in the National School Breakfast Program (NSBP) and the Summer Food Program (SFP).

In 2005-06, although 81 percent of Texas school children qualified for free or reduced breakfast, only 28 percent participated in the Breakfast Program. Research proves that a healthy breakfast reduces the risk of childhood obesity and improves school performance.

Sen. Lucio's Senate Bill 869 would provide universal school breakfast to students in school districts in which 60 percent or more of the children qualified for free or reduced meals. The legislation stipulates that to receive state funding, breakfast must be served during the school day, which is an important provision because studies show that participation increases by 32 percent at schools that do so.

"Although state law requires that schools provide breakfast if at least 10 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, Sen. Lucio explained that "many children do not take advantage of the program because breakfast is served before the school day and it is too difficult to arrive early, or because of the stigma associated with school meals."

Senate Bill 910 would require a school district participating in the NSBP to provide a free breakfast to elementary, middle or junior high school students who are eligible for a reduced-price breakfast. Eliminating the family co-pay for children who already qualify for reduced-price breakfast relieves a school's administrative burden, and has successfully increased participation by up to 40 percent in other states.

Unfortunately, many Texas children who rely upon school meals either often go hungry or gain excessive weight from poor diets during the summer months because they no longer have access to healthier school meals. Texas' SFP provides low-income children nutritional meals during the summer months at schools or alternative sites with federal reimbursement for each meal served. The Food Action Resource Center reports that in Texas, fewer than 10 percent of low-income children participate in the SFP. If the state could serve meals to 40 percent of these food lunch participants, it would receive an additional $38.4 million per year from the federal government.

To raise participation in the SFP, Sen. Lucio filed Senate Bill 867 requiring school districts to serve summer meals for 30 consecutive weekdays in districts where at least half of the students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch meals. Current law addresses only districts with at least 60 percent of students who qualify, but the change to 50 percent would more closely align Texas with federal recommendations.

SB 867 also requires a school board to issue official public notice if declining to sponsor the summer food service, which may actually alert the community to become more involved in the program and to eventually help expand it.

"Need doesn't stop during the summer months," said Sen. Lucio. "Texas must do more to expand the number of sites that serve food in the summer months, and we must work to increase the number of weeks that our existing programs operate.

"As the economy continues to falter, more and more students must rely on school meals for their primary source of nutrition," he added. "Summer school lunch programs are a viable avenue for these children."

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