Bearing Witness

by Billy Shore

Maryland success highlights need for American Meals For Achievement

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

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Public-private partnerships just earned a new vote of confidence thanks to the achievements of our No Kid Hungry campaign.  Heading into the crucial last months of 2014, it affirms our hard work pays off for the children we serve.
Last week the Washington Post reported that Maryland awarded nearly $7 million in state funds to ensure more students could start the school day with a healthy breakfast.  See @ ow.ly/APRlP   The money will reach 481 schools across the state through the Maryland Meals for Achievement program (MMFA) which has been one of Governor O’Malley’s primary vehicles for advancing our goals.  MMFA enables all children, whether they can afford breakfast or not, to have breakfast together, in their own classroom, or on the way into class, as an alternative to traditional breakfast in the cafeteria which requires children to arrive early and suffer the stigma of being the kids who need assistance.
The program’s name says it all. Meals for achievement. Maryland was one of the first states to understand the strong and direct connection between well fed children and academic success. Because of the dramatic improvement in school breakfast participation that our campaign has achieved, Governor O’Malley consistently proposes boosts for MMFA funding.
From the time that Governor O’Malley embraced the goals of ending childhood hunger in Maryland in partnership with Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, the number of schools participating has increased 87%.   Those schools show a 7.2% lower rate of chronic absenteeism and are 12.5% more likely to achieve proficiency on standardized math tests.  For every dollar the state spends on MMFA, Maryland gets $4.75 in federal reimbursements for meals.  The winners: children, schools, taxpayers.
As satisfying as this may be, our response must go beyond celebration, to challenging ourselves to think even bigger.
Arkansas, inspired by Maryland Meals For Achievement, was first to create a similar program for its state. The challenge now is to enable other states to follow. If education is the priority we say it is, there ought to be an American Meals for Achievement so that every state’s students have an opportunity to succeed in school by starting the day with the nutrition they need.
In today’s economic and political environment, the threshold question is whether to accept traditional and incremental progress, or push for big and bold.  There’s comfort in the former, But not sufficient impact.  With big and bold, failure is always a risk, but one worth taking when the cost is low, the return is high, and our children’s future, perhaps our nation’s, hangs in the balance.