Opinion: Hungry kids in Georgia need more than a cheese sandwich

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution features GBPI President and CEO Staci Fox’s op-ed that addresses the $88,000 in outstanding school meal debt recently reported by the City Schools of Decatur.

At a January school board meeting, City Schools of Decatur reported $88,000 in meal debt. This figure prompted leaders to announce that starting in February, students with debt from meal charges would be served cheese sandwiches and milk until the bills were paid.

The issue was swiftly resolved through the generosity of the Arby’s Foundation. However, the news has reignited a crucial conversation about the broader challenges Georgia’s children face. As someone deeply engaged in how our state raises and spends money, this story raised a lot of questions for me.

My mind went first to the kids.

The district broke down the owed debt, detailing that 46% derived from students who pay for lunch, 36% from those receiving free or reduced lunch, 6% from district staff and 12% from students no longer in the school district.

Then, I wanted to get a grasp on how many kids count on school for their meals.

One in every 10 children in Georgia is living in a family that cannot afford basic necessities such as housing and food, according to the latest data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The Atlanta Community Food Bank reports that 13.3% or 1 in 8 children in Georgia are food insecure.

These and other data points indicate that at least 62% of kids and families across our state need support.

And as bad as hunger is for children in Georgia, it does not occur in a vacuum. Historical and institutionalized statewide inequities have produced these cheese sandwiches.

So, then I ask, what is the government’s role in ensuring kids are fully nourished at school? And more importantly, do they have the capacity to address this need?

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