New laws focus on cafeteria food in Arkansas schools

Arkansas News
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KARK) – (4/11/19) Two new laws in Arkansas focus on removing the stigma when kids cannot pay for lunch at school and feeding more students at home.

State lawmakers passed the legislation during the past three months of the session.

The first will make sure schools use better practices when students have unpaid lunch bills.

“I just thought, ‘Wow,'” St. Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, told his colleagues as he described how an Arkansas House staffer brought the issue to him. “Put yourself in the shoes of that student who for whatever reason may have an unpaid lunch bill at their school, and then imagine being that student who is embarrassed publicly among their peers for that.”

Davis gave the examples of schools making these kids sit at a different table, feeding them a different meal or making them wear a bracelet. He said it is not a rampant issue though.

“This is really a raise awareness type of bill,” Davis said.

The second new law could take more time to implement. It will give public and charter schools the authority to develop policies to give surplus cafeteria food to students.

“Right now, it’s optional,” St. Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, said on the House floor. “It would still be optional under this.”

The Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) has heard some schools already do this under U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines but does not have a list of which ones.

Its communications director, Kim Friedman, said ADE plans to provide more information to all districts in the coming months as it goes through its training season.

“It just gives schools a chance for things maybe that they threw away in the past that are still good that they can distribute to the kids at the end of the day to take home with them,” St. Sen. Lance Eads, R-Springdale, told his Senate colleagues. 

In the meantime, school nutrition directors have told the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance that oftentimes there won’t be excess food, but there could be excess cost if it has to be repackaged.

Indiana recently received national attention after some of its schools teamed up with a nonprofit to provide students with take-home meals by using excess cafeteria food.

The organization combines the school food with other donations to provide kids with frozen to-go meals to eat over the weekend. 

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