Mixed response to food for schools plan

HARRY PEARL
Last updated 05:00 25/01/2013

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Parliament will debate the merits of a state-funded food in schools programme next month - but the bill is already getting a mixed response from Waikato MPs.

Hone Harawira's Education (Food in Schools) Amendment Bill - which aims to make meals available for students in all decile one to three primary and intermediate schools - will have its first reading on February 13.

If passed, the bill would provide schools who were eligible with the chance to opt in for assistance from a designated food provider.

The New Zealand Principals' Federation and Poverty Action Waikato have swung in behind the bill, but Hamilton East MP Tim Macindoe said National would not support it.

"I certainly acknowledge there is a problem with some kids arriving at school having not had an adequate or nutritious breakfast, but I believe the Government's response has been appropriate."

Mr Macindoe pointed out the KidsCan programme and Fonterra's Milk for Schools - which will be rolled out later this year - as examples of adequate private-sector initiatives.

"We would rather continue to promote the KidsCan programme and the others I've mentioned, which we think are more specifically targeted towards the kids in need."

However, Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta said children arriving at school under-nourished was a huge issue in her electorate.

"Roughly 20 per cent of my electorate earn $40,000 or less. Far too many children go to school without breakfast or lunch."

Ms Mahuta rejected Mr Macindoe's claim that existing measures went far enough.

"There's a huge waiting list of schools who want to be a part of these programmes and they actually can't afford to cater for every school that wants to be involved."

A report released by Poverty Action Waikato in September last year estimated about 25 per cent of children at decile one and two schools in Waikato were arriving with some degree of "food need".

Approximately 75 per cent of the decile one and two primary and intermediate schools across the region had a breakfast programme, said the report, Window on Waikato Poverty: Food and Waikato School Communities.

Crawshaw School principal Jillian Littlewood said although children coming to school hungry was not a big issue at her decile one Hamilton school, the bill was something she supported.

"I think that nutrition is so important for our kids. As long as it was a good healthy nutritious lunch I think it would be positive for our children."

Crawshaw School already benefited from the Fruit in Schools programme, she said.

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Stephen Thackray, principal of Waipa School in Ngaruawahia, which falls within Ms Mahuta's electorate, said he saw the bill as beneficial and well intentioned, but his roll already benefited from programmes such as Kids-Can and Fruit in Schools.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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