EIT Professors relieved school lunches survive but say funding cut is step backwards

While it is a relief the Government has committed to two more years of funding for the Ka Ora Ka Ako school lunch programme, the $107m cut for intermediate and secondary school lunches is a huge step backwards, say two EIT professors.

Professor David Tipene-Leach and Professor Boyd Swinburn head a team at Te Kura i Awarua Rangahau Māori Research Centre at EIT, which has been evaluating the Ka Ora Ka Ako school lunch programme for five years.

“But the pre-Budget announcement was primarily a money saving exercise. The $107m cut for intermediate and secondary school lunches is a huge step backwards,” Professor Swinburn says.

Prof Tipene-Leach says there is clear evidence of benefit around relief from hunger, better nutrition, improved attendance at school, improved mental health and reduction of barriers to education.

“It is hard to imagine how the nutrition standard of food can remain when funding is slashed by more than half.”

Prof Swinburn adds: “The universal model, where everyone gets a lunch, avoids the stigma of being labelled ‘needy’. Hawke’s Bay principals strongly support this model and are concerned that kids would avoid eating school lunches if it became a more selective model. We also risk seeing the return of unhealthy store-bought fast foods back in schools again.”

He also fears that the quality of school lunches will inevitably decline as will packaging and food waste.

The Nourishing Hawke’s Bay: He wairua tō te kai research team has been involved over this time with principals, parents and community organisations looking at the impact of Ka Ora Ka Ako on students and whānau and, more recently, looking at how to best improve the local school lunch system.

Senior Research Fellow Dr Rachael Glassey says they have been actively involved in promoting best practice locally and policy improvement nationally.

“This does not appear to be best practice, best policy driven. It is not yet clear how the new system will work – although schools will have to order, store, prepare and then distribute packaged and mass prepared food. There may well also be a reliance on charity donations and volunteer labour.”

Senior Research Fellow Dr Renee Railton says one of the objectives of the programme was local job creation and there are implications for local businesses supplying lunches and for schools who have developed their own kitchens.

“Big industrial suppliers of food may be the primary beneficiaries of this change.”

“We all know that it’s Māori and Pasifika kids who are more commonly food insecure and this programme is big in our communities and the lives of our kids,” says Prof Tipene-Leach.

“We would like to see the Ka Ora Ka Ako school lunch programme grow not shrink. This Government is supposed to be about improving education and we would say to them that kids with good food in their tummies learn much better.”

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