Starving our schools

In the 1970s, maybe two kids in a class of 30 were technically “overweight” or “obese.” Now, the percentage has doubled. That means four to five fat kids per classroom – and the number is rising.

To combat this inflating tide of fat kids, who are likelier to die younger than average, our state politicians have introduced SB 860, a bill that would ban the sale of junk food that federal guidelines categorize as having “minimal nutritional value.”

The Oregon Education Association and the Oregon School Boards Association earned a coveted “Rogue of the Week” brand from Willamette Week last week for their ironic opposition to the bill, but a look at their reasoning exposes a sad reality.

Budgets and finances are very dear to their hearts, and they oppose the bill on the grounds that currently the schools need the money from the companies that are making schoolchildren fat. Junk food companies pay school districts to allow them to peddle their “food” on campuses, and losing that revenue would mean poorer schools.

Corporate toadies, read “lobbyists,” have also opposed this bill, saying that “good eating habits should be taught in schools or at home but should not be enforced.” Like, say, if parents want their fat kid to not eat Fritos for awhile. They can keep Fritos out of the house all they want, but when the kid comes to school, the parents’ rule should not be enforced.

You can tell these guys care about the welfare of their consumers.

SB 228 is another bill encountering financial blockage in the War on Obesity. This bill would require that kids have a PE class every day from kindergarten through eighth grade. This makes sense when you have a growing population of fat kids. But hiring more PE teachers, sadly, isn’t in the budget.

Vending companies have yet to offer to provide more vending machines, generating enough revenue for a PE teacher in every school. Seems healthy kids would cut into their sales.

HB 3129 is facing a similar problem. It would require Oregonians graduating high school to have three years of math and four of English under their belts, raising the requirement of each by one year. But who will pay for all these new teachers? There are only two solutions on the table currently. One would be to cut taxes – thank you, House Republicans, but that does not cure all of life’s problems – and the other is to cut the length of the school year.

Cutting school days out of the calendar year not only decreases the amount of time kids are learning (and eating junk food – you with me, Frito-Lay?) but also is an awful move for the teachers. They accept a job at a given salary, and then are given forced leave, and their pay is cut. Engendering job dissatisfaction among the educators might not be the best way to ensure that our children are getting the best education possible.

Let’s solve this revenue shortfall the old-fashioned way: generate more revenue. Allow the junk-food companies to stay in the schools. And until their contracts expire, let’s raise the corporate tax burden on them until we match our budget gap. If they are lowering our quality of life, let’s make them pay for it.

If they have to raise prices on their junk food, that’s great! It means fat kids will buy junk food less often because they will be less able to afford it. The very bastards making kids fat will have to pay the money to make them thin again through higher taxes – and we can have all the PE, math and English classes we want.

Chaelan MacTavish can be reached at [email protected]