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Manel Kappagoda's picture

Have you checked out the water fountains at your kids’ school lately? See any like the ones you remember from your childhood? If so, are they in good working order? And how does the water taste?

Sad to say, the prevalent drinking fountains of our youth are all but relics of the past. At many schools today, sugary beverages are far easier to come by than safe, free drinking water.

Two years ago, the federal government passed a law requiring schools participating in the National School Lunch Program – which provides free or low-cost lunches for eligible students – to offer access to free drinking water during lunch wherever school meals are served.

But many schools are struggling to make that happen. In fact, a recent study of California public schools found that one in four schools did not comply with the requirements.

Making drinking water available to students is not only the law; it’s a way to promote kids’ overall health and ability to learn. Children who are dehydrated tend to experience a drop in short-term memory and concentration. What’s more, drinking sugary sodas and sports drinks instead of water can put kids at greater risk of excess weight gain and tooth decay.

What can parents and others do to make sure their schools provide safe, free drinking water?

• Push for stronger school policies. Schools can go beyond federal requirements to specify that free and safe drinking water be made widely available on school campuses throughout the day. School policies also can explicitly permit students to bring water into classrooms in clear, capped containers.

• Improve water quality. By performing regular testing and maintenance and making the information accessible, districts can help assuage student and staff concerns about water quality. For information on testing programs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed guidance for schools (see Schools can restore deteriorating infrastructure by working with local and state government or securing federal funding to cover the costs of repairs. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District used funds from a city bond earmarked for school improvements to repair plumbing in its schools.

• Invest in a water dispenser. Schools can provide a water jug or water cooler in the cafeteria, or they can go a step further to install a filtration device to provide a permanent source of clean and appealing drinking water. To purchase a filter, schools may need money for installation, maintenance, and labor (to fill and sanitize dispensers).

For more resources from ChangeLab Solutions on making drinking water accessible in schools, visit

Manel Kappagoda is a vice president at ChangeLab Solutions, a national nonprofit working to transform neighborhoods with laws and policies that create lasting change. This piece is adapted from a post that ran on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution blog on October 17, 2012.  

This post is part of the MomsRising Healthy Holiday Food Blog Carnival.

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