FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 11, 2002
AUSTIN, TX--A worthy goal of ensuring that Texas school children do not go hungry may become part of state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.'s legislative package.
"I am looking at funding options for a statewide Breakfast/Lunch Initiative, which would provide free meals to all public school children, regardless of family income," explained the Brownsville Democrat. "We looked at a possible tax on soda for providing the necessary funds for the program. We're looking at all options, especially at a time when we face a budget shortfall of $5 billion or more."
A $2 tax would be imposed per gallon on the sale of soft drink syrup and $0.21 per gallon on the sale of bottled soft drinks. Approval of such a tax would generate approximately $180.3 million.
Currently, the federal Child Nutrition Program appropriates $800 million to Texas public schools, which is matched by the state at 2 percent. Seventy-two school districts in Texas provide both free breakfasts and lunches.
"School districts with a high percentage of children who qualify for free meals prefer to save on administrative costs, like hiring a cashier in the cafeteria, and instead direct the money to feeding all their students," explained Sen. Lucio.
National studies indicate several educational and health benefits for children who eat breakfast:
- increased school attendance
- increased student attention
- improved student behavior
- decreased drop-out rates
- reduced disciplinary referrals
- increased parental and community involvement
- reduced tardiness
- measurably improved test scores
- reduced visits to school nurses
- increased attention to sound nutrition at home
- reduced absences due to headache or stomach ache
- improved overall health
- decreased absences due to illness
"With hectic schedules and children having to leave home early to catch school buses, breakfast becomes secondary," said Sen. Lucio. "We want children in the classroom who can concentrate and succeed in school."
Sen. Lucio is also researching the need for a statewide task force to study the nutritional content of school cafeteria food, to ensure it does not contribute to obesity or diabetes in children.
One out of 300 school aged children in this country has diagnosed diabetes. The Texas Diabetes Council's January 2001 study, "Diabetes in Childhood and Adolescence," reports that diabetes in children is one of the costliest and most devastating chronic childhood conditions. In 1997, there were 700,676 adults (5.1 percent of the adult population) in Texas with diagnosed diabetes. An additional 5,104,725 children and adults in Texas were determined at increased risk for undiagnosed diabetes because of the risk factors of age, obesity and sedentary lifestyles. Twenty percent of American children are obese, and for Texas that means 800,000 children.
Both proposals are under development, and Sen. Lucio plans to meet with health and education leaders like Commissioner of Education Felipe Alanis and Health Commissioner Eduardo Sanchez, M.D. to further discuss his plans.
The State Comptroller has estimated it would cost $395 million to offer every public school student in Texas a free breakfast, lunch and snack. The snack program is optional.
"Not only do we want children to eat the most important meal of the day - breakfast- but we also want them to eat nutritionally," added Sen. Lucio.
Note: All tax bills must originate in the House of Representatives.