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While teachers walk picket lines, many students go hungry

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Sep. 21, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
September 21, 2011 4:42 pm

This editorial is scheduled to appear in Thursday’s print edition. Should Tacoma teachers agree to go back to work before our print deadline, a different editorial will appear Thursday.

Making sure kids are learning is the most important reason to end Tacoma’s teacher strike, and it’s why Gov. Chris Gregoire’s intervention in the contract negotiations is welcome.

But there’s another reason teachers need to go back to work: making sure many of their students aren’t going hungry.

About 18,000 students – more than half of Tacoma schoolchildren – are from families so poor that they qualify for free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch. Not all of those children actually take advantage of the program. But for those who do, the food they get at school may be the only regular, nutritious meals they get all day.

Over the summer, 96 feeding programs throughout the city helped address the problem of how to get meals to children when school is out. But those summer programs are over. With the strike going into its eighth day, that translates into a lot of hungry kids.

Some have suggested that the Tacoma School District continue to feed children during the strike, but that’s just not possible. The district gets federal money – $50,500 a day – that subsidizes the free and reduced-price meals when school is in session. The district hasn’t budgeted for shouldering that additional expense or for paying cafeteria workers for extra days – even if they agreed to cross the teachers’ picket lines.

It’s fortunate that the district was able to donate fresh produce to the Emergency Food Network before it went bad; some of that food likely will find its way to the families of Tacoma schoolchildren. But it’s no substitute for regular, hot meals.

As of this writing, Tacoma teachers and the school district were still negotiating. While they’re talking, thousands of children aren’t getting the daily nutrition they need.

There’s no good reason why the teachers couldn’t go back to work while contract negotiations continued; it happens all the time. They can show their concern for Tacoma’s children by not letting them miss any more meals.

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