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Bill mandates fresh water for Calif. students

September 20, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Despite an effort to get kids eating healthier at school, many school districts don't provide free, fresh drinking water at lunchtime. A new law would change that. But some worry about the added costs to school districts. The bill is sitting on the governor's desk waiting for his signature.In an era when soda sales are banned on campuses, students in about half of the public schools across California do not have access to drinking water in their cafeterias.

At Oakland's McClymonds High School, they give out bottled water. Like so many other schools, the nearest water fountain is outside the building, several feet away. But many schools are not as generous.

"They just haven't thought about having water available," said Kenneth Hecht, executive director, California Food Policy Advocates. "Lots of schools and lots of kids were dependent on the sugar-sweetened beverages for a long time."

A bill is on Governor Schwarzenegger's desk that requires schools to provide water with meals by next July. He'll likely sign it because he's the one pushing the mandate.

It doesn't have to be bottled water. Tap water is fine.

While all schools want to provide free drinking water, some wonder how they'll pay for things like water pitchers and even paper cups. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), for instance, is grappling with a $640 million deficit.

Not to mention, LAUSD also has to deal with unsafe lead levels in many of its drinking fountains.

The Oakland Unified School District, though, spends thousands of dollars a year on bottled water because it's not feasible to construct a water fountain in older buildings.

While milk and juice are available, budget-busting cold water is popular.

"It is expensive, but as I said, it's right. The kids really need it. So if we have to, we make adjustments in other areas in order for us to be able to provide it to them," said Cassaundra Alderson, Oakland Unified Nutrition Services.

Even providing bottled water may not be the right answer.

"We want to get away from those small bottles. They're expensive and they're damaging the world," said Kenneth Hecht. "We want to get into free tap water wherever possible."

Water helps hydrate kids while they focus on academics and helps build the right habits while they're young.

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