By SHANNON YOUNG
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut school nutrition advocates said Wednesday they will once again be pushing lawmakers to expand the state’s school breakfast program.
Last year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a bill that increased eligibility to grant funds for Connecticut schools with a high percentage of children from low-income families. The governor’s current budget recommends that $2.2 million be spent on the program in the new fiscal year beginning on July 1.
Education Committee Co-Chair Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, said he is proud of advancements that occurred last year, but is unsure of whether or not the school breakfast program will receive additional state funding again this session.
“We’re still unearthing the budget situation,” he said. “A lot of variables are uncertain at this point.”
According to data from the Food Research and Action Center, Connecticut experienced 14 percent growth in program participation during the 2010-11 school year, with 66,995 children from low-income families eating breakfast at school. Despite this growth, less than 62 percent of schools in the state participated in both national school lunch and breakfast programs.
Connecticut State Department of Education spokesman Mark Linabury said currently 632 schools participate in the school breakfast program.
In an effort to increase school participation, Lucy Nolan, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!, said her organization is advocating for changes to the school breakfast program. These changes include incorporating morning meals into the classroom and adding the option of “grab and go” meals.
“It’s all about access,” she said.
Currently the Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven school districts qualify for universal free breakfast for children due to their percentage of low-income students. Nolan said that changing the program to incorporate meals into classrooms could reduce social stigma associated with receiving free breakfast and help increase the low student participation rates in those districts.
If the participation rate increases, Nolan said, it could bring in millions of dollars in additional federal funding.
Roberta Jacobs, the president of the state’s School Nutrition Association, said that while she is content with the with the legislature’s recent support, she will continue to lobby to maintain state funding for current school nutrition programs.
“We want to make sure the money is not taken away,” she said.
The school breakfast program provides children of all backgrounds with morning meals and is funded partly by cash subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In order to receive funding, meals must meet federal nutrition requirements and be offered for free or reduced prices to eligible low-income children.
Children from families with higher income, however, may also purchase full-price meals through the program.
Under this program, school districts receive reimbursements for each served meal, with free meals receiving the highest return rate and full-cost meals receiving the lowest. Although school districts may set their own prices for full-cost meals, to receive reimbursement funding, schools must operate their meal services as a nonprofit venture.
The Connecticut Dietetic Association, End Hunger Connecticut! and the School Nutrition Association of Connecticut joined state legislators and others at a lobbying event at the state Capitol. Afterward, members from the organizations met with lawmakers to urge continued legislative support for school breakfast and funding for programs that promote nutrition in schools.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)