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Originally published Monday, December 13, 2010 at 4:41 PM

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Feeding hungry students pays off

President Obama signed legislation Monday that increases federal spending on school-lunch programs, and raises standards for nutrition, food safety and financial management.

HUNGRY, fidgeting, distracted children do not pay attention to their lessons. Feeding students lunch, and increasingly breakfast, is a basic investment in making other tax dollars for education pay off.

President Obama's signature Monday on The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 increases federal funding for school meals and child-nutrition programs. There is also money to feed kids in other settings, through the federally subsidized Child and Adult Care Food Program.

The new law means programs that already feed 31 million children will continue for five more years and have the first substantial boost in spending in 30 years. New funding amounting to $4.5 billion over 10 years is included, so the numbers served will rise.

On one level, the reauthorization bill is as basic as making sure millions of children get fed at least one meal a day. Children arrive for classes without breakfast, and they are tucking leftovers from lunch into their pockets for after school.

The hunger is real. So is the effort in the law to improve nutrition and attempt to reduce childhood obesity. Pinning the blame for a generation of overweight kids on one meal a day lets a lot of household nutrition and snacking habits off the hook, but there is always room for improvement.

Access and exposure to better, healthier choices at school and more thoughtful use of commodity foods and other menu supplements is a good idea. So is sharing nutritional information with parents.

This is a government-subsidized program, so along with an emphasis on more nutritious meals, beefed-up provisions for more frequent financial audits and strong promotion of food safety are also welcome.

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