At her hastily called, poorly organized town hall meeting in Watertown weekend before last, Congresswoman Kristi Noem used her tired opposition to Obama-era school lunch nutrition rules to dodge a question about the punishing cuts to education and other areas in the Trump budget.
Once again, Noem’s dodge-point ideology (teachers crying that kids don’t get enough to eat because of mean old Obama!) runs counter to effective public policy. New research from the University of California at Berkeley finds that schools responding to the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act by contracting with more nutritious school lunch vendors saw a small but significant increase in student test scores.
Healthier school lunches appear to boost student performance more cost-effectively than policy changes like lowering class size:
After tabulating the average price per meal in the vendor contracts—and estimating the cost of in-house school meals based on National School Lunch Program reimbursements—the study found that it cost about $222 per student per year to switch from in-house school-lunch preparation to a healthier lunch vendor that correlated with a rise of 0.1 standard deviations in the student’s test score. To put that statistic into perspective, healthier meals could raise student achievement by about 4 percentile points on average.
In comparison, it cost $1,368 per year to raise a student’s test score by 0.1 standard deviations in the Tennessee STAR experiment, a project that studied the effects of class-size on student achievement in elementary school. The paper notes that established research in the field supports the need for “lower-cost policies with modest effects on student test scores [that] may generate a better return than costly policies with larger absolute effects” [Melinda D. Anderson, “Do Healthy Lunches Improve Student Test Scores?” The Atlantic, 2017.03.22].
It’s funny that Kristi’s own healthy snacks haven’t improved her legislative performance. If Kristi Noem based her policy pronouncements on research and real good for kids, she’d drop her bogus attacks on school lunches and support the positive changes promoted by the Obama school nutrition rules.