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First World Problem? Public Schools Struggling to Provide Free, Drinkable Water

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Not exactly a #firstworldproblem: Back in December of 2010, President Barack Obama signed The Healthy, Hunger- Free Kids Act, which included the provision that public schools make water available at no charge during lunch. The reason behind the provision was that the drinks being pedaled to kids were too high in both sugar and calories — whether those were flavored-milks or fruit juice or even regular old soda. Plain milk or water is really the only way to go.

Fast forward to the start of the 2011-2012 school year. The provision has finally become a mandate and school administrators are “scrambling” to comply with the requirement that free water be provided to America’s 49 million school children during their lunch period, MSNBC reports.

Like something out of Idiocracy, the problem isn’t as simple for some school districts as pointing kids to the nearest drinking fountain — because some large, urban school districts don’t even have drinking fountains.

“Every kid needs access to water,” said Brian Giles, food services senior administrator at the Houston Independent School District. “It would have been nice if the feds allocated some money for it.”

Since the majority of Houston schools — the nation’s seventh-largest school district with more than 202,000 students and almost 300 campuses — don’t have drinking fountains or access to water, Giles had to spend $60,000 to buy 3.5-gallon water coolers for each school cafeteria. Now, the school offers students water to go along with juice or milk.

Two months into the school year and “we’re not seeing a lot of demand for [water],” Giles admitted to MSNBC. And it’s not just Houston that is in this predicament. According to the article, both Seattle and Atlanta are struggling to provide free water to their students.

What does it say about America where large school districts are struggling to provide their students with access to free, drinkable water? Granted, this isn’t the case for affluent public schools with access to funds or good facilities. But it’s almost hard to believe that “almost half the nation’s public elementary school students could purchase soda, sport drinks and higher-fat milk during the 2008-2009 school year from vending machines, school stores and a la carte lines,” according to a 2010 study conducted by the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

It wouldn’t take much to shift federal or state spending priorities to make a combating childhood obesity program — one that includes physical fitness and nutritional eating — a priority across the nation.

It’s no secret that school districts receive a decent kickback from putting vending machines in their schools. Many of those school districts need that money to stay afloat, and when it comes down to the choice between having vending machines (at the expense of the children’s health) or having school supplies, it isn’t really a choice for most schools.

That’s the real shame in all of this. Schools are doing whatever they can for the kids, but it never seems like education is a priority in America. Probably because the teacher’s unions are evil, right?

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