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Education leaders plead for extension of child nutrition waivers

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  • Child nutrition waivers from the federal government helped North Carolina feed all of its kids during the pandemic, both during the school year and over the summer. But those waivers run out at the end of this month. #nced
  • "The loss of these waivers will devastate school meal programs and threaten their sustainability. School meals will be jeopardized for thousands of North Carolina students who depend upon them," said @CTruittNCDPI & @edstateboard_nc Chair Eric Davis in letters to the state’s U.S. senators.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government granted a series of waivers to school nutrition departments that allowed them to serve meals to students during the summer and allowed free meals for all students in schools. At the end of this month, that will end unless legislation in Congress gets approved.

Two prominent education leaders are begging North Carolina’s U.S. senators to do something about it.

In identical letters sent to Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt and State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis discussed hearing at this month’s State Board meeting “the potentially catastrophic impacts of soaring food, fuel, supply and labor costs on the federally assisted school nutrition programs.”

They say federal nutrition waivers are integral in providing flexibility to districts to make sure students are fed.

“The loss of these waivers will devastate school meal programs and threaten their sustainability. School meals will be jeopardized for thousands of North Carolina students who depend upon them as their primary source of food during the week,” the letters state. “While we all want to put the pandemic behind us and resume normal operations, school nutrition programs are not able to return to ‘business as usual’ for the 2022-23 school year given the conditions described above.” 

The letters tell the senators that school nutrition programs get some money from the federal government but not full funding. It says that the state General Assembly helps support the school nutrition program and will ensure that some economically disadvantaged students continue to get meals. However, the letters state, “If the waivers aren’t extended, thousands of children in North Carolina will lose that access to school meals in the summer and during the school year.”

The letter asks the senators to support federal legislation that would extend school nutrition waivers through September 2023.

“Superintendents and school nutrition directors are doing their best to recover from pandemic conditions, but it will take more time for the marketplace to rebound and for the current economy to stabilize,” the letters state. “Continuation of the waivers for at least one more year is critical to ensure children have access to nutritious school meals, to support program sustainability and to prevent substantial financial losses for schools in our state.”

You can read the letters here and here.  

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.