Opponents of a bill proposing government-funded meals for lower decile schools say it could simply end up rewarding bad parenting.
The Mana Party's Feed the Kids Bill has divided the Tauranga educational community with some saying it amounts to a handout allowing parents to escape their responsibilities.
At the same time, it placed social issues at the door of schools when their function was to educate, they said.
Supporters of the bill said school children would not be able to escape the poverty trap without proper nutrition. They argued children should not have their future prospects destroyed because of their social situation.
"It is my personal view this is an abdication of responsibility of parenting," said Green Park School principal Graeme Lind. "We need to start looking more closely at what is happening at home.
"While children who are underfed are less able to learn is that to become the school's responsibility? This is something which should be handled by social agencies. There are too many social issues being passed on to schools."
Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell agreed the role of schools was becoming confused.
"What is the role of the school and what is the role of the parent?"
He said targeting low decile schools also caused issues.
"Why target only low decile? As soon as you rank schools you exclude a lot of students who would be in just as much need. Around 200 students at my school (which is decile 8) would be lower decile."
Brookfield School principal Robert Hyndman had reservations over the bill.
"I believe this measure is well-intentioned but it doesn't address the underlying cause, which is poverty."
Gate Pa School head Richard Inder said, if implemented, the bill should be targeted only at those in need and not at all decile 1 and 2 children.
"Parents should be feeding their children, schools should not be taking that responsibility away."
Family First NZ national director Bob McCoskrie, who has a home in Mount Maunganui, said the system could end up rewarding bad parenting.
"There is a welfare system in New Zealand. Every home has a source of income. The important question is 'What is the money being spent on, and is that appropriate?"'
He asked whether food vouchers could solve part of the problem.
Meanwhile, the bill's supporters say the issue is simply about the children and nothing else should matter.
"You have to break the cycle of poverty and the best way of doing that is by giving them a chance through education," said Merivale School principal Jan Tinetti.
"Providing them with the correct nutrition is a step towards giving them that chance."
Ms Tinetti said malnutrition could exacerbate conditions such as school sores and lesions, something her school had experienced.
"Last winter, we had a lot more children seriously ill and hospitalised, including one child at Starship in a critical condition - with an illness that started as untreated school sores. We see enough of it to be a big concern."
Tauranga Homes for Hope chief executive Hilary Price, whose organisation provides foster care for abused and neglected children, said too many intelligent, talented kids were not getting the chance they deserved.
She welcomed the Feed the Kids Bill debate as a chance for progress to be made.
Mrs Price said poverty and poor nutrition in children was a problem that was growing exponentially.
"It's ballooning out of control.
"There are a lot more out there, so it's good to be having this conversation."
Feed the Kids
The Mana Party's Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill - commonly known as the Feed the Kids Bill - proposes government-funded breakfasts and lunches for all decile 1 and 2 schools.
Last week, the bill received the support of the newly-launched Community Campaign for Food in Schools (CCFC).
It is scheduled to get its first reading before Parliament in June.