Four-day school weeks could leave thousands of Oklahoma kids hungry

Photo by Nathan / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Nathan / CC BY 2.0

One of the most visible consequences of the state’s budget crisis is the increasing number of school districts that are considering or have already gone to a four-day school week. More than 100 districts are considering making the switch, according to the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration. Shortened school weeks may save cash-strapped school budgets, but they also can create troubling side-effects ranging from the cost to families suddenly in need of child care to unanswered questions about how shorter weeks affect learning. What’s most troubling is that for kids whose most reliable meals come from school, a shortened school week can mean going hungry.

This isn’t a small number of kids. In Oklahoma, nearly two out of every three students – more than 400,000 in total – qualify for a free- or reduced-price school meals. While lunches are the most common meal students get at school, school breakfasts are also important for many kids. In the 2014-2015 school year, 58 percent of Oklahoma students who ate a free- or reduced-price lunch ate a free or reduced-price breakfast, too.

These meals are an integral part of the food security safety net. Thousands of families across the state rely on them, and they play an important role in keeping Oklahoma kids healthy and ready to learn. Schools participating in the Community Eligibility Provision, which maximizes access to school meals, report everything from better test scores to fewer behavioral issues. School meals are a win-win because they provided needed nutrition to kids while taking the strain off family budgets.

free & reduced meals 2Unfortunately, when schools cut back to four-day weeks, many parents’ paychecks can’t be stretched to provide their kids two or more additional meals per week. The impact can be devastating. When Macomb Public Schools in Pottawatomie County returned to a five-day week from a four-day week for the 2015-2016 school year, Superintendent Matthew Riggs said, “There were kids I firmly believe were leaving school on Thursday and weren’t getting a good meal until Monday morning when we served breakfast again.” Similarly, districts in Idaho and Kentucky have flipped back to five-day school weeks due to concerns about whether their students were getting enough food.

Oklahoma superintendents at districts considering a four-day week are aware of the challenge and looking for ways to minimize the harm. At Wagoner Public Schools, whose board recently voted to begin four-day weeks in August, almost three in four students qualify for free or reduced-price meal. At two Wagoner elementary schools, four in five do. Superintendent Randy Harris says they’re exploring options to try to minimize the negative effects on Wagoner students and families. Extending the school day past 4pm would mean they could offer another meal in the afternoons, and Harris is hopeful that Wagoner will be able to partner with a food bank to send backpacks of food home with students who need it for the weekend.

[pullquote]“There were kids I firmly believe were leaving school on Thursday and weren’t getting a good meal until Monday morning when we served breakfast again.”[/pullquote]

Backpack programs are neither new nor unusual in Oklahoma. In the 2014-2015 school year, the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma’s Food for Kids Backpack Program served nearly 18,500 students in 514 schools. Although the food banks undoubtedly want to step up and do all they can, the fact remains that they’re already giving away record amounts of food. According to Executive Director Rodney Bivens of the Regional Food Bank, distribution has increased by 6 percent over the last three months, compared to the same three months last year. That’s an additional 785,000 pounds of food. More four-day weeks across the state mean more backpack programs and similar measures — which mean relying more on private philanthropy to fill the gap caused by the state’s persistent failure to fund basic services.

Superintendent Harris pointed out that it’s a choice between bad options — Wagoner Public Schools was faced with either going to a four-day school week or laying off teachers. Nevertheless, a backpack of Rice-A-Roni and peanut butter isn’t a replacement for nutritionally-rigorous school meals. Macomb Public Schools instituted a backpack program for elementary schoolers and an in-school food bank for high school students when they transitioned to a four-day week, and a lot of their students used it — but by Superintendent Riggs’ estimation, it wasn’t enough. Private charity cannot replace state services, and increasing reliance on it puts Oklahoma children at risk. This makes the need for responsible solutions to the budget crisis that will minimize cuts to education funding and avert the need to move to four-day weeks even more urgent.

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

17 thoughts on “Four-day school weeks could leave thousands of Oklahoma kids hungry

  1. If this should happen think of involving churches for the needs on Friday’s. They could do that for outreach in the neighborhoods. Win win for both groups.

  2. Our church is involved in the backpack program, giving over 150 backpacks of food a week. The challenge is, the food we send home to the kids is overly processed, packaged foods with no real nutritional value (which is obtained through the local food bank). We need to provide better food for our children! We also need better money managers on the state level! Someone is not looking out for our future! Which is our children!

  3. If they really can’t afford to feed their kids, what do they do during the summer? If they really don’t have money, they should qualify for SNAP and a bunch of other taxpayer funded stuff. How much burden do you want on the taxpayers? I’m fine with helping the needy, but not funding lazy, alcoholics, etc. Where do you draw the line and say enough is enough? How can we feed the kids and let the parents fend for themselves? BTW Oklahoma has a major need for more foster parents.

  4. Our kids and grand children need better education not less. As for the meals that they need and this 4- day week is hard on parents to provide day care. Sounds like the state needs to step up and to find someone who can actually manage the system right. I’m a voter and will do research on finding the best to lead in our schools.

  5. As a recipient of SNAP for my family, i can tell you the real issue is not with the parents or not qualifying or applying, the issue lies with the system. multiple times my wife and I have had to deal with suddenly canceled for no reason Snap benefits, my wife would go to the DHS office to find out whats going on while I was at work just to get told ‘it could take us 14 days to find out whats going on, sorry cant help you’ at 14 days she wouldnt have heard anything so she went back and was told again’ it could take 14 days’ then the same process would occur yet again, after which ( this time a month and a half later) we would get a letter in the mail, dated 2 months prior, saying our benefits would be canceled on such and such date due to failure to comply with child support services. it took 5 years for us to find out since We were not married when our oldest was born, and she married another man who refuses to sign divorce papers when we split, that the issue lied with her not filing child support against me ( we have been back together now 6 years, and could never get a straight answer from any DHS worker,and didnt even know her now ex husband was on my daughters birth cirtificates since I was listed as the father each time. they eneded up demanding I pay for DNA tests for each of my daughters because he also refused to sign denial of paternity papers, by the end of which I ended up paying over 3 grand out of pocket between DNA tests, form changes, and multitudes of reprint fees of birth certificates) finally once we got that issue straightened out random months we would for unknown reasons get our benefits cut to half or a third of what they are supposed to be, and we would get the same response as with why our benefits were being canceled ( it will take 14 days for answers)and no there is not a need for more foster parents David, there is a need for a rouge agency to stop stealing children. my wife and I have been battling the system for close to a year now trying to get our daughters home because 2 dhs workers and their supervisor lied, falsified evidence, and slandered my family to take my children into custody, even had police attesting to the falsehood of their claims as well as a DHS appointed safety monitor attesting there was no grounds for removal, evidence the Judge and DA refuse to aknowledge in court stating it to be ‘inadmissable due to infaliablity of DHS’what is happening is that the more children DHS has in their care, the more money the federal government will throw at them to help, and if they fall below a specific amount of children in custody then their funding drops with it, which means case workers loose work and since the vast majority of them do not have any form of college education, that would leave their own workers stuck living off the system because they cannot get any job but child are and fast food ( and most child care facilities will nto hire a past DHS worker )

  6. This seems bs to me. Unfortunately although I am a dean of higher education I have lost faith in education that prepares students for college.

  7. This is unconscionable. And to the idiot who want to know how they feed their kids in the summer – the federal government supports programs for summer meals for all the kids who need it.

    If your state government is in such bad shape, maybe you should consider changing the guard.

  8. Im thinking there are plenty of ways to feed the children, it is NOT the states responsibility to feed, house and clothe YOUR children. Parents that can’t or don’t work get a part time job, lots of places now a days work with schedules. Stretch your dollars, use coupons, shop sales. I work hard for my money and I still have to make it stretch to feed my children! I don’t ask for help and when I do need help family and friends help. The children that need help are known to teachers and other adults, YES send them home with food if parents refuse to take responsibilty and pray these children break the cycle!!!

  9. Wow Bonnie. So you personally have struggled with making your dollars stretch to feed your children but you think all parents are being lazy if they need government assistance to keep their children fed? That just seems a little short sighted to me. I grew up poor. My mother was a single parent and a full time nurse. We never went on government assistance of any kind, but I wish we had. My mother rationed our food to make sure everyone was fed while covering all our bills, and I remember being hungry every single day of my childhood. I was the kid in the schoÖl cafeteria who asked if you were going to finish that and then ate other people’s green beans or corn or whatever wasn’t popular because I was always starving. No child should have to grow up that way, and the economy has only gotten worse since I was a child in the nineties. If I have to pay a little extra in taxes to ensure children are being fed no matter their parents’ circumstances, I will willingly except that even if a few people are working part time so they can stay in benefits or being lazy and not working at all. Although I doubt there at really people not working just to get did stamps because the hoops you have to jump through to get benefits are a part time job in themselves.

  10. There are plenty of people that work hard to provide for their family but still have a hard time. Maybe instead of judging and blaming parents that need assistance, we should think about the children who have no choice in the matter. It is not the child’s fault when there are 10 people living in the house, when a parent gambles away the food money, or big brother uses it for drugs. What about the mom who works 3 jobs and can only afford the least amount of food? It doesn’t matter what the reason is, children are starving and it’s our responsibility to help the ones who can’t help themselves. Do you think a backpack of crackers and peanut butter will keep a child from being hungry for 3 full days? It’s about the kids!!

  11. This country has never been pro life, this proves it. By all means, make sure the rich keep getting rich while we all suffer. This country not on a financially sustainable path, but hey, this is most likely what they want!

  12. How does a state with so many oil rigs and rich dudes owning them end up with not enough money to run the schools of the state. Answer: lack of taxes on the oil to the counties of OKLA.

    The problem occurred because of the shortsight of those in charge, anticipating continued increase in oil demand while so much of the country is going to other forms of energy ,leaving the demand for oil to be less than the supply.

    Now we have the poor struggling to make ends meet with an added cost of day care for those left at home. This can be solved, so do it!@

  13. If billionaires like trump payed taxes this would not happen, but they will still vote republican. The same is happening in Kansas.

  14. 1st, this is about education and lack of education due to funding not hunger issues. Our children are ranked low when it come to education out of all other states. Basically saying our kids are dumb according to national statistics. 2nd, if Oklahoma would focus on the essentials for education, making sure our children can read, write and add or subtract would be better for the important child education problems instead of trying to keep up with the other states by shoving so much unnecessary education work down their throats that can be saved for College or higher education skills. Stop sending more and more work home for the parents to do with the children because that is what school is for. Why is it so important for children to learn to read faster, there is no need for that. All children learn differently. Some read slower, as long as they can read and understand is more important for their education than being able to read fast and not retaining any of it. Research papers are a waste of time and it would be better retained if they focused on the report itself and the information. Do smaller just simple book reports and they will retain more of it. State testing is a waste of time. We don’t care what our children in Oklahoma rank compared to those from Florida. State testing has nothing to do with our childrens important fundamental and essential education. State testing has nothing to do with our personal children’s grades at all. We care about our children and their education not someone else’s in another state just so they can say and make our children feel dumb or stupid with the hard work and study efforts they put in and accomplish and are learning and getting educated. We should focus more on the essentials for education and life building skills than keeping up with other states: we are loosing focus on what is really important. These are just a few things for example there is so much more.

    Food, as long as a child is full and not hungry is the main idea. I really don’t care what they eat as long as they aren’t hungry and get full.

    There is this little pill called Birth Control. Use it. This should be in everyone’s vocabulary: If you can’t feed and take care of yourself on your own don’t bring another life into the world until you are self sustained or self sufficient. STOP having sexual relations if you don’t want to take a pill. Stop making life if you can’t take care of them on your own without wanting everyone else to take away from their own children to help take care of yours.

    I went to college, passed boards, I am a nurse and I waited to have children until I was in my 30’s after I could take care of myself and knew I could take care of another on my own! This is really the best approach.

    Save the assistant programs for those who REALLY need them, sick, disabled, homeless, elder, etc….

  15. How can parents not be able to pay for lunches but they can afford brand new cell phones and new gaming systems for their kids?

  16. LUKE: You ask how do poor kids afford new cell phones. I taught poor kids for 20 years, all 25%tiles. Many times when one on one, I was asked to not step on their brand new sneakers. They would wear them for a week, then clean them back to new to return to the Ft. Lauderdale Swap Shop for a refund.
    I saw price tags still on shirts on kids’ backs. They were returned also. Mess up the shoes or shirts, and the family ate less for a month to make up the costs. Their homes looked dilapidated, but spotless inside! Some cell phones would be up to their ears, but not on…just making like they had one like the white kids. Both parents working. When one was called into the school’s counseling office. Mom or Dad took time off of work to come. 99% of my 150 kids each year were courteous always to me, their white teacher. 11 had sickle cell anemia, yet sat in school Try walking in their shoes before you put them down

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