At long last, Congress has passed the child nutrition bill. Among its important achievements, it bans (some) junk food in schools, authorizes new programs to automatically enroll needy kids for free meals, and gives a small, if virtually unprecedented, boost—six cents per lunch—to the federal reimbursement rate that pays for much of what appears on students' trays.
Supporters immediately hailed the bill as historic, in large part because that six cents is the first increase of the reimbursement rate in 30 years. But buried inside this bill, which has been stalled in Congress for two years, is a provision that will, ultimately, nearly double the rate hike that has everyone celebrating. Over the next decade, this provision could raise about $2.6 billion for school lunch, the equivalent of a roughly five-cent additional increase per lunch.
Section 205 requires school districts to ensure that the federal funding for meals for low-income children actually be spent on those children, rather than to subsidize the meals of higher-income children who pay for school lunch. To those uninitiated in the byzantine world of school lunch, it might seem odd—even illegal—that federal money would be used to subsidize school lunch for students who could already afford it.