Charter Schools Can Keep Independence and Right Not to Feed Poor Kids

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Although Governor Jerry Brown believes that “pupil nutrition is profoundly important,” he feels it is trumped by the need of charter schools to “be free from large portions of the voluminous state Education Code.”

That was the message delivered last week when the governor vetoed Assembly Bill 1594, legislation that would have compelled charter schools to provide low-income students with free or reduced-price meals like those served, by law, in traditional schools. Charter schools, which enroll 412,000 students, now have the option of not providing meals to low-income students that meet federal nutrition standards. And many of them don’t.

A study in 2010 by the California State Auditor found that about half of the charter schools voluntarily participated in the breakfast or lunch programs. Those that didn’t participate cited a number of reasons, including a lack of facilities to prepare and serve the food, and funding problems. Some schools maintain that there is no need to participate because their students bring nutritious meals from home.

Many of the schools, according to the audit, “believe that the nutritional needs of their students, including low-income students, are being met.” But the audit also noted that “a lack of reliable data prevents the California Department of Education from determining the number of students eligible for or participating in” school meal programs.    

Charter schools are part of the public school system but privately managed. They are attended by choice, do not charge tuition and are governed by state-authorized charters. California authorized the creation of charter schools in 1992, applied collective bargaining laws seven years later and has continued to nurture their growth with funding and legislation. The California Department of Education has 1,459 charter schools in its database.  

If passed, the law would have cost the federal government $600,000 a year, according to an analysis by state Senate Appropriations Committee. But the cost to the state for partial reimbursement was unknown. 

The legislation was supported by teachers unions, the California School Boards Association and California School Employees Association. 

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Veto Pits Charter School Autonomy Against Reduced Meals (by Joanna Lin, California Watch)

California's Charter Schools: Some Are Providing Meals to Students (California State Auditor)

Bill Would Ensure Free Meals for Needy Charter School Students (by Bernice Yeung, California Watch)

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