By Dave Donaldson
The state would take part in paying for school meals through a bill heading through the Senate this session. The measure by Anchorage Democrat Bill Wielechowski would provide an extra thirty-five cents for breakfasts and fifteen cents for lunches provided free or at reduced prices to students from low-income families.
The state input would be in addition to the $ 34-million in federal money that goes into the program statewide. Wielechowski told the Senate’s Education committee that the plan would have positive results for the state in students’ performance – both long-term and short-term.
And psychologist Mike Sobocinski told the panel that studies show the benefits of nutrition to children’s success, attendance and behavior.
As children are not hungry and they are able to be in the classroom, you do see an improvement in behavior. It’s just very difficult to take care of business when you are not properly fed.
Amy Rouse, Director of Nutrition Services for the Fairbanks North Star Borough schools, says thirty percent of the district’s students qualify for the free or reduced-rate meals. And the district is looking at a $ 300-thousand shortfall this year – but not a cutback on quality or service.
In the month of January, we served over 27-thousand breakfasts and 92-thousand lunches. Twenty eight percent of the breakfasts and sixty six percent of the lunches were served to students who qualified to receive meals at the free or reduced rate.
Currently, schools meet the budget shortfalls in the cost of meals with money that was originally planned for classroom needs. Eddy Jeans, the director of School Finance for the Department of Education says that part of next year’s $50-million increase in statewide funding will go to the program, too.
Currently they’re transferring $9.1-million out of what they would call their instructional budget to support the food service budget. So I can tell you with a lot of confidence that school districts are going to be very supporting of this bill because it will free up a portion of that nine-point one that they’re currently transferring.
The committee will take the bill back up Friday – with a cost estimate for the program to be provided by the Department of Education.