The mayor’s office is concerned that some students are double-dipping (eating twice – once at home and again at school), while the City Council is worried that students who do not eat enough will not perform well in the classroom.
Serving kids from low-income families a breakfast is not a bad idea, but serving it in the classroom might be. Schools that have cafeterias should be using them for that reason. The argument that students feel singled out by eating in the cafeteria is also a little weak, as if other students will not see them eating breakfast in the classroom as well.
The problem that public education has been twisting itself to solve is how to keep kids focused. Distractions are a big vehicle to a poor education. More and more parents and advocates are coming over to the school uniforms idea because it creates less of a distraction.
The idea of students eating at their desks seems like a good idea in theory. If you are teaching that classroom, however, the last thing you want to remind students over and over again is that “breakfast is over,” “please do not throw food in the classroom,” “please throw your garbage out,” etc. These are all major distractions.
It’s interesting that when it comes to the breakfast issue, suddenly we become concerned with the performance of students. Where is all of this enthusiasm when it comes to the debate over a longer school year? If performance is the issue, there are a lot of changes that can be introduced.
Breakfast served to kids in public schools is a good idea, but the classroom does not need another distraction to keep students from their books. When they go into the work world, they will most likely not eat at their desks (although that is changing a little).
If we are preparing students for the real world, then we should do just that. Policy makers can address a real need in public education, or they can address a constituency. In this case, as in most, they would do better to address the need.
The San Fran Truckin' Experiment
The San Francisco neighborhood known as The Tenderloin, which has a serious homeless problem, will be experimenting with the idea of a food truck operated by people who are homeless in the hopes that this will create a stable income for them.
There are not many federal funds for the homeless geared solely toward job creation at this time, although that might be changing soon. A food truck, however, does not require a grant from the federal government, not in its pilot stage, anyway. San Francisco can probably foot the bill to get this experiment rolling.
There are two lessons to learn here from a public policy standpoint. The first lesson being that projects like this may get access to McKinney-Vento (federal funds for homelessness) funding for this at some point.
But before any small pilot program like this gets a commitment from the federal government, it will have to prove it will work. This program might work well in San Francisco, since lunch trucks are a big hit in that city, as in ours.
The second lesson is that if we are going to look at what makes a good jobs component for the homeless, why are cities not exploring the idea of a long-term solution, like manufacturing?
Our cities have lost their grip on manufacturing, as jobs have drifted overseas. There is a segment of the homeless population that is difficult to train, and difficult to maintain in a structured work environment. But there is also a sizable portion of the homeless, in New York especially, that can be trained to rejoin the workforce.
This reintroduction to manufacturing would require an understanding from trade unions that unionization of these people happens gradually. By opening up this industry again, we can put people back to work, and even add to the trade union ranks by creating more jobs.
Anyone reading this is already thinking that this is the process that drove business out of the big cities. It became cheaper to manufacture in southern states, and then it was cheaper to do so in developing countries.
We might not be able to draw some of those businesses back, but new start-ups can manufacture here. This is what the good politicians do, they work with the obstacles and they introduce new ideas.
A food truck puts four or five people on a truck to work, but the cycle ends there. An entity that produces a product means line workers have work, the sales people work, the shippers work, and the stores work. That is how to build up.
The San Francisco food truck idea is good, but in the end, it is not a sustainable solution to the homeless problem.