Less hunger, more learning for Oregon’s kids

With the stroke of Governor Kate Brown’s pen on April 9, 2015, advocates like Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon attained a major legislative victory for children in Oregon: increased access to a nutritious lunch for 30,000 Oregon students.

Connecting more Oregon kids to a healthy lunch is the foundation for improving students’ academic success. Studies show that nourishing food fuels a child’s ability to pay attention in class and learn. Simply put, less hunger means more learning.

“Anything we can do to help those kids succeed, will help our collective bottom line, in the form of higher graduation rates, a more educated population, and less of an opportunity gap,” said Kasandra Griffin, Policy Manager for Food and School Health at Upstream Public Health. “The hungry kids of today can become the innovators, job-creators, and legislators of tomorrow, if they have a chance.”

The passage of House Bill 5017 – the state’s K-12 funding bill – eliminates the school lunch co-pay for Oregon’s students who qualify for reduced-price school lunches. Previously, families had to find a way to come up with the cost of the co-pay for the meal. The legislation was championed by State Representative Margaret Doherty.

For an average family with two kids, the lunch co-pay often added up to $17 per month. And while that amount may seem small to some, for many working families it required diligent budgeting and tough choices. As the month wore on, participation in the program dropped, showing the burden the co-pay placed on families struggling to afford the essentials.

“Charging low-income children for lunch is a burden on families and schools, said Annie Kirschner, Program Director for Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon. “I’ve heard from parents who make unbelievable sacrifices to pay the lunch bill and school staff who agonize over holding back healthy meals from students they know need it.”

The co-pay elimination was featured in the 2015 Children’s Agenda and was also supported by Healthy Kids Learn Better, ImpactNW, Oregon Food Bank, Oregon Pediatric Society, Oregon School Nurses Association, Sable House, Upstream Public Health, and YWCA of Greater Portland.