vide it, others because the family work schedule leaves no time for it. For health and educational purposes, it makes sense to remedy this nutritional deficiency, which is why the federal government made school breakfast subsidies available in the first place. The Texas law simply goes the feds one better by requiring Texas schools to take advantage of the federal program. It is this obligation that has ruffled feathers in school districts ‘scattered across the state. According to the Texas Education Agency, 5,039 of Texas’ 5,360 schools are affected by the law, including those in seven large districts that refuse on principle to accept federal assistance \(typically these are affluent districts that do offer food service, but can afford to most militant of the big school systems is Garland Independent School District, whose officials have led the charge against the breakfast mandate -. Their first countermove was to sue the state in federal court in February 1978 on the ground that the mandatory Texas law conflicted with the voluntary federal program, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals emphatically upheld the Texas law last month. The court declared that the state’s participation requirement was “entirely compatible” with the federal plan, because Congress had not intended by its enactment to discourage states from expanding the program’s reach. Thus rebuffed in court, Garland ISD has turned to the Legislature, where some members seem inclined to undo their good deed of last session. Also applying pressure to overturn the breakfast law are Richardson ISD, the largest district in the state that rejects federal food Victoria and Harlingen, and others from West Texas districts that have resisted all food programs and offer no cafeteria service. The repeal movement in the current Legislature began when Reps. Dan Kubiak of Rockdale and John Sharp of Victoria prefiled HB 290, which would simply abolish the breakfast mandate \(in part, they claim, because local districts are being forced to bear ‘expenses that the complaints from West Texas, firstterm Rep. Mary Polk of El Paso has submitted HB 1148 to exempt schools without food service facilities from the law, and Del Rio Rep. Susan McBee has introduced HB 499 to allow schools where fewer than half the students participate in the program to discontinue it. \(Thbugh 400,000 of Texas’ 2.8 million students now benefit from the program, they make up a majority in very few districts, so McBee’s bill would permit withdrawal by almost every school sysAll three bills were referred to the committee on public education and sent on to a subcommittee headed by Rep. Bill Haley of Center. Republicans William Blanton of Carrollton and Milton Fox of Houston, who both voted against the breakfast bill last session, make up half of the subcommittee, so the rollback bills are likely to be approved there. In the full committee, a close vote is expected. Chairman Hamp Atkinson of New Boston opposed the law last year, but the 11-member committee also includes five hold-overs who backed the Johnson bill. One possible committee outcome may be a “compromise” that would retain the basic law, but excuse schools without facilities from its coverage or revise upward the percentage of needy children in a school that would trigger the participation requirement. However, one probreakfast representative expressed concern that any bill, even one agreed upon in committee, would be amended into a complete repeal on the House floor. Unfortunately, Eddie Bernice Johnson is no longer in the Legislature to lead the defenders of the law she sponsored. \(Johnson is now Dallas regional director groups \(like Texas IMPACT and the ice organizations, some anti-hunger projects, and a few sympathetic legislators, El Paso Democrat Ron Coleman being among the most active. The opponents of the breakfast law have the momentum right now, and there’s a real danger that breakfast for a lot of Texas schoolkids will be canceled before the case being made against the program is subjected to the close inspection it deserves. Yet the vocal opposition is coming from just a handful of districts; start-up of the program has been smooth and uncontroversial in thousands of local schools. This is not to say that all the criticisms of the 1977 law should be dismissed out of hand. There is some basis for the complaint that local districts have had to bear certain indirect expenses without assistance, though just how much is hard to pin down. There has been some need to rearrange bus and class schedules and to pay school personnel for extra time spent in administering the breakfast program. The irony is that federal funds set aside specifically to ease such burdens have gone largely untapped. This year, for example, even though TEA’s nutrition office is seriously understaffed \(with just eight field representatives to help over 5,000 schools administer food servearmarked for state administrative expenses will be left untouched. The reason: TEA, constrained by prolonged state hiring freezes and afraid it might look like a profligate spender in the eyes of Capitol budget-slicers, has budgeted only $245,000 of the $1.3 million available. Similarly, schools can recoup an extra 10 cents for each free or discount meal served if they have unusually high breakfast expenses or have a large number of needy students and a low local tax base. But TEA has chosen to restrictively interpret the federal criteria for such aid, and by February 20 of this year the agency had found just 137 Texas schools eligible for it. In any event, the feds are about to make it much easier to qualifya regulation is in the works that will give all schools “required by State law to serve breakfasts” automatic eligibility for the higher rate of reimbursement if the current rates aren’t enough to cover costs. Thus, precisely because the Texas program is mandatory, Texas schools could receive an added $500,000 per month for their breakfast services. More federal money is, of course, exactly what the folks who run the schools in Garland and Richardson don’t want. But their “freedom of choice” has to be weighed against the freedom of needy Texans under the current law to choose for their children an adequate breakfast and the enhanced learning potential that goes with it. It is the Legislature’s job to make this sort of judgment; on the merits, that judgment should be to leave the ’77 school breakfast law well enough alone. Zy Weinberg is project director for the Community Nutrition Institute in Austin. ..K. su e se i ds ug or THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1,11450:,,P,, .1.,,,,fto. , k41 ,….t ,
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