No Child in Virginia Should Go Hungry.

As Governor, I will fight to end school lunch debt and protect the legacy of Virginia’s First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe and former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama.

Cruelty to children is the marker of a regressive society, and school lunch policies that allow children to go hungry or serve them substandard meals if they can’t pay are cruel.

42 percent of those served at Virginia’s food banks are children. Hunger directly impacts student performance and leads to to gaps in educational attainment. Hungry kids score lower on tests and are more likely to be held back a grade than students who don’t experience food insecurity.

Tom volunteering at FeedMore, a Central Virginia hunger relief organization

Virginia’s First Lady, Dorothy McAuliffe, has been a champion of ending student hunger through her work with the No Kid Hungry Virginia Campaign and as the chair of the Commonwealth Council on Bridging the Nutritional Divide. Because of her tireless efforts, thousands of Virginia’s children were served millions more meals last year than the year before. I am committed to continuing her legacy, as I believe that ensuring our kids have enough to eat is both a moral imperative and a critically important tool in ending inequality. Her work with the Council also led to the creation of the Virginia Food Access Network, which gives us the data to better target efforts to relieve food insecurity in the Commonwealth.

At the national level, the Trump administration has already begun to attack the legacy of former first lady Michelle Obama by unraveling the school lunch nutrition standards she championed. We cannot stand idly by as the federal government aims its corrosive and dehumanizing policies at our Commonwealth’s children.

As governor, I will make it a priority to end school lunch debt and the lunch shaming that often goes with it and to ensure that our kids are getting nutritionally-balanced meals at school. We’ve seen too many cases across our country of cafeteria workers put into the difficult position of being instructed to deny children hot lunches if they have unpaid lunch tabs — in some instances forced to throw away a tray of food if the child can’t pay for it. Not to mention the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars our teachers pay out of their own pockets each year to provide their hungry students with snacks during the day.

As governor, I will make it a priority to end school lunch debt and the lunch shaming that often goes with it.

A child’s only focus in school should be learning, not worrying about whether she’ll be able to afford lunch or whether her friends will notice that she’s been given a brown bag lunch instead of a hot meal.

My administration’s approach to tackling student hunger will use seven lines of attack to get to the heart of the problem:

1. Support and encourage increased participation by eligible schools in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a federal program that provides funding for breakfast and lunch for all students in high poverty schools. With only 42.2 percent of Virginia’s eligible school districts currently participating in this program, our Commonwealth is leaving federal funds on the table.

2. Provide school districts with necessary funding and programming assistance to expand income level eligibility for free lunches and increase participation rates among students with unpaid lunch debt

3. Work to ensure that Virginia schools meet the nutritional guidelines set out in former first lady Michelle Obama’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act

4. Explore ways to continue progress in increasing participation in school breakfast, after-school snack, and summer meal programs

5. Call for a bill to ban all lunch shaming practices in public schools, from stamping the hands of children with unpaid lunch debt to requiring students to perform janitorial tasks to earn lunch

6. Create a school garden pilot program in rural and urban school districts located in food deserts, targeted at providing healthier meals to students

7. Explore opportunities to expand the percentage of school lunch ingredients that come from local and sustainable agriculture

Ensuring that Virginia’s kids have regular, healthy meals is an essential part of upholding our commitment as a society to ending inequality and demonstrating our belief in the dignity and value of every human being. We can and must do more to help the kids of our Commonwealth.