Cape asks for waiver on school breakfast program

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

A lack of funding will leave some fourth-graders who are accustomed to eating breakfast in Cape Girardeau elementary schools without that free meal when they go to Central Middle School next year.

The Cape Girardeau School Board on Monday approved a request for a waiver from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that would excuse the district from providing breakfast at Central junior high and middle schools and Clippard Elementary.

A 1993 Missouri Senate bill requires schools with a free and reduced lunch enrollment of 35 percent or higher to operate a breakfast program.

The number of students eligible for the free and reduced lunch program has increased to more than 35 percent at the junior high, middle school and Clippard, forcing the district either to ask for a waiver or implement a breakfast program next year.

Currently at three schools

The district currently serves breakfast to students at Blanchard, Franklin and Jefferson elementary schools, but because of the cost, officials want avoid starting new programs at other schools.

"But we're not taking away something that's been offered before," Rob Huff, chief financial officer with the district. "We've run into the problem of whose responsibility it is and how much schools can do."

Lisa Elfink, director of food services with the district, said an average of 180 students eat at breakfast at Blanchard every day, 165 eat at Jefferson and 100 eat at Franklin.

Those schools receive severe-need funding, which comes in the form of additional federal reimbursement, because the free and reduced lunch rate, which is based on family income, at those schools is so high.

Senate Bill 449, which was intended to increase the number of schools participating in breakfast programs, did not originally include a waiver option. It was added after some educators expressed concern that no additional money was available to fund the breakfast mandate.

Meal reimbursement is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but no federal or state money is available for initial implementation of breakfast programs.

In 2000-01, the most recent year data is available from DESE, 1,934 of Missouri's 2,200 schools -- or 87 percent -- participated in the breakfast program, most on a voluntary basis.

"Studies show that breakfast programs improves attendance and helps test scores," said Willene Alley, food services director at DESE. "Because of that, most schools are doing it voluntarily."

Only 23 schools in Missouri, with 35 percent or students on free or reduced lunches, will be required to have a breakfast program or be granted waivers for the 2003-04 school year.

Offered to all students

The extra reimbursement money that Cape Girardeau schools receive as severe-need schools is funneled back into the program so that the district can offer breakfast free to all the students at those schools, not just those who qualify.

The reimbursement money also goes toward staff salary and food purchases for breakfast, although Huff said the program is losing money this year and instructional funds have been used to cover the loss.

District officials say there is a chance they could start breakfast programs at one or more of the waivered schools at some point in 2003-04 school year, if enough interest is expressed by students and parents.

335-6611, extension 128

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