News Roundup: More Texas Students Are Eating Free Breakfast At School

Our daily roundup of headlines from across Texas.

By Becky FogelMarch 19, 2018 12:34 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

Texas is getting closer to a goal of having 70 percent of eligible students participate in the federal School Breakfast Program – a benchmark that anti-hunger advocates have set nationwide.

Dr. Kathy Krey with Baylor University’s Texas Hunger Initiative says “we’ve really seen a steady increase in school breakfast participation – and we’re currently at almost 63 percent.”

The hunger initiative released its fourth annual Texas School Breakfast Report Card at the end of last week. Krey says one reason Texas has seen growing participation in the program has to do with a law adopted in 2013. “There was a bill passed that required Texas schools with 80 percent or more students who were eligible for free or reduced price lunch to serve breakfast free to all students,” she explains. “So certainly that legislation has had an impact on breakfast participation in Texas.”

Krey says Texas is one of just a handful of states with similar legislation, and that since the law took effect, school breakfast participation has increased four percent statewide.

She adds that local school districts have also done a good job of finding creative ways to make sure kids have something to eat in the morning, like offering breakfast after the bell, “and really formalizing their commitment at the district level to breakfast and recognizing the impact that proper nutrition really has on education.”

32 percent of public districts and charters in the state have already met the 70 percent benchmark as of the 2016-2017 academic year.

Another meeting of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance is underway Monday.

Today is the first time parents and teachers can testify before the panel, and Houston Public Media’s Laura Isensee reports Houston parents are among those in Austin giving state officials feedback on how Texas funds it public schools.

Heather Golden has two children in Houston public schools. She’s seen firsthand what the drop in the state’s share of school funding means. Legislative analysts calculate it’s dropped by about $340 per student since 2008. Local property taxes now fund the majority of public school funding in Texas.

“Principals really have to scramble to cover costs that they shouldn’t have to scramble,” Golden said. “So teachers, for example, have to buy paper with their own money.”

Golden said that she hopes the commission recommends more funding for English-language learners and at-risk children — and an overhaul of the so-called Robin Hood system that requires property wealthy districts to send local tax dollars to the state, even if they enroll mostly poor students, like Houston ISD.

Lawmakers created the commission last year after the Texas Supreme Court found the funding system flawed but constitutional in 2016. Its members include lawmakers, business leaders and educators.

Help is on the way for parts of Texas suffering from ongoing drought: The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 60 counties, primarily in the Texas Panhandle and South Plains, as natural disaster areas.

Qualified farmers and ranchers will now be eligible for emergency loans to help cover losses and damages caused by the dry conditions.

The last time there was any measurable precipitation in the area was mid-February.