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This article was published 8/5/2019 (711 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba teachers are calling on the province to strike a blow against poverty and create a universal meal program to feed a growing number of hungry students in public schools.
"Proper nutrition supports student learning," Manitoba Teachers' Society president Norm Gould said Wednesday. "Hungry kids aren’t focused on schoolwork — they’re focused on hunger pangs."
Germany, Sweden, France and other developed countries have universal meal programs in schools, he said, adding they see it as an investment because students are more successful in school if they have proper nutrition.
A universal meal program is one of 17 recommendations made Wednesday to the Manitoba commission on kindergarten to Grade 12 education, led by former Tory finance and education minister Clayton Manness.
"(The commission) asked: 'How are you going to pay for these recommendations?'" said the teachers society president, who admitted he didn't have an answer. "We're coming at it from what's in the best interest of kids."
Poverty is one of the biggest barriers to learning and Manitoba has one of the highest child-poverty rates in Canada, said the group, which represents 16,000 teachers in the province. One in two First Nations children, one in four Métis, and one in four Inuit live in poverty, recent data shows.
Any plan for improving the public education system has to include a comprehensive action plan to reduce poverty's impact on students, the society told the education commission
In 2016-17, the Child Nutrition Council of Manitoba, which funds school nutrition programs, served 3.7 million snacks and meals, reaching 24,000 students and 239 programs, but it wasn't sufficient, the teachers said. Additional resources are needed to meet the demand in 60 per cent of the programs supported by the council.
"We recognize that the issue of poverty extends beyond meal programs, but we have to start somewhere," Gould said.
A universal school meal program for Manitoba isn't a new proposal, said chairman of the Make Poverty History Manitoba coalition, Michael Barkman. "It was in our 'View From Here' plan we launched four years ago."
In 2015, the report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives called for a renewed poverty reduction plan in Manitoba, including "an adequately funded and nutritionally sound provincial school nourishment program that is available to all schools in need by 2020."
Teachers are now speaking up for hungry students, said Barkman.
"It's so good to see the union of teachers in our province saying they'll get better results when we address poverty, and that it's the root cause of so many issues, including poor educational outcomes."
In the long term, investing in the health and education of children is as important to Manitoba's economy as reducing the deficit, Barkman said.
"When we're only focused on the immediate goal of deficit reduction, we're not seeing the chipping away at and eroding of public services that's the result," he said. "Having that approach to short-term budgetary goals will really damage our future — especially for kids."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
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