By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
Improved nutrition, easier access to school food and incorporating local produce in school meals would cost the District an estimated $6.5 million annually under proposed "Healthy Schools" legislation, according to the D.C. government's Chief Financial Officer, Natwar M. Gandi.
Gandi released written testimony yesterday indicating that most of that money would be spent on increasing the city's contribution to school meals by 10 cents for breakfast and 10 cents for lunch, as well as a 5 cent bonus for meals that contain locally grown products, free breakfast for all students and covering the cost currently paid by students who qualify for reduced-price meals under the federally-subsidized meal program.
The cost of the legislation, which had previously been undetermined, brought out a parade of charter school officials complaining that they did not have the means to pay for it. They appeared at hearings before D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), author of the bill.
"This is much like 'No Child Left Behind,' full of unfunded mandates," said Donald Hense, of Friendship Public Charter School. "The financial incentives are not enough for us to change our food service."
Along with setting healthier food standards, the legislation also mandates increased physical activity for children. Charter school officials said in many cases their schools have neither the funds nor the facilities to comply with the proposed standards. "How can charter schools implement all this?" said Josphine Baker, executive director of the Public Charter School Board. "Ten cents for breakfast and lunch is just barely enough. It could be cost prohibitive for all schools to use local produce. It's a challenge sometimes to provide both a rigorous education and healthy, nutritious meals."
Gandi estimated the total cost of the legislation for the city's charter schools at $1.6 million. Cheh vowed that she will find funding to cover all of the bills requirements. "We fully appreciate the costs," she said. "I'm working assiduously on getting that money. And I'm pretty much sure that I will get that money."
Cheh added that the legislation will save money in the long run in reduced health costs for city residents. "Even if it cost money and we didn't save money, how much is it worth to have people lead healthy lives?" Cheh said. "We will save money and have better lives.