An Act To Further Reduce Student Hunger
Maine lawmakers were recently faced with an important decision: whether or not to overturn the veto of a bill called An Act To Further Reduce Student Hunger. The bill was vetoed by Governor Paul LePage because he claimed it was an “unfunded mandate”. In summary, the bill stated that public schools which operate summer educational or enrichment programs that also have at least 50% of students qualifying for free/reduced lunch must provide a food service program in the summer as well. It also states that schools with 50% of students qualifying for free/reduced lunch that do NOT put on summer programs must collaborate with some sort of service institution (such as a summer camp or town government) to operate a summer food service program. The goal, of course, (as stated in the name of the bill) is to reduce student hunger, which has quite recently been found to have adverse affects on student performance. Fortunately, this past week, both the Senate and the House overturned Paul Lepage’s veto, and the bill is now a law.
While it might sound like public school districts are being forced into funding things without much of a real say in the decision, this is absolutely not the case. The bill cannot be considered an unfunded mandate, because for one, it is not mandatory, and two, funding is actually available. In the official summary of the bill, it clearly states that a school’s administrative units can vote to opt out of the food service programs, as long as they hold a hearing first stating why “such a program would be financially or logistically impracticable.” Therefore, schools do get to make their own decision of whether or not to put on the food service program; however, I truly believe that the only reason why a school should even want to opt out of this program is for financial reasons. Poverty is statistically associated with lower academic performance, and the state of Maine should be doing everything possible to ensure that children are getting a good nutrition.
As I mentioned above, funding for this type of food service program is already available to public schools from the US Department of Agriculture, so LePage’s claim that the bill is “unfunded” is incorrect. The USDA actually has a program called the Summer Food Service Program, which reimburses impoverished public school districts for the meals they provide when school is not in session. So what has Maine got to lose? The bill is not drawing from our state budget, and the decision is ultimately made by each district.
Thankfully, passing this bill is one step in the right direction, but the fact remains that Paul LePage and a great deal of Republican legislators were not in favor of this bill. Only four House Republicans voted to override the veto. This, to me, is concerning, because it seems as though the issue of poverty is once again being put on the back-burner. We as Maine citizens need to realize that poverty must be looked at as a priority, and not just something we can afford to deal with later on. Now is the time for us to make a change and eliminate poverty for the well-being of all Mainers.