Building a better breakfast

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Friday, December 7, 2007
— A Janesville school breakfast club recently put out a public appeal for donations to keep its anti-hunger program going.

Which raises the question: Why don’t the public schools take advantage of the federal School Breakfast Program and provide breakfast at all the schools? Especially at a time when poverty indicators for local children are rising?

Deb Goad, who manages the district’s food services department, has much to say about that.

For starters, nine of the district’s 18 schools have privately funded, volunteer-run breakfast clubs, where any student can eat for free.

Free breakfast has advantages over the federally funded program. The federal program is free only to the children from the lowest incomes.

The individual attention volunteers can give to the children also is an advantage, Goad said.

The federal program, however, has nutrition guidelines. The private programs don’t, although volunteers do their best, Goad said.

“Cheese isn’t cheap, and we want to give them protein,” said Jackson School Breakfast Club volunteer Carolyn Brandeen. “Peanut butter isn’t cheap. We want to give them orange juice, not orange drink.”

In recent years, the district has started federally funded programs at Parker, Marshall, Lincoln and Wilson schools, Goad said. Increases in government funding have helped, and a now-defunct program that paid startup costs was important, Goad said.

Commercial breakfast equipment can be pricey. A conveyor toaster can cost upwards of $800, Goad said.

Nevertheless, “I would venture to say that Jackson (School) would be next” to get the district-run breakfast program, Goad said.

Jackson has a breakfast club, but it recently appealed for donations because cash reserves had run low.

Goad said she and Jackson Principal Pat Johnson would talk about converting to the federal program. Goad said Jackson might be a good place to test blending the government-funded program with volunteers who could add their special attention to the kids.

Breakfast programs typically have started when a principal identified a need, Goad said. Some schools have surveyed parents and found no desire to start a program.

Once a program is in place, “we don’t want to be viewed as just a program for the needy. It should be for everyone,” Goad said. “Some people don’t understand that and feel stigmatized if they participate, so we have to come up with new ways to market that.”

Wilson is the only school to have both a free, voluntary breakfast club in the morning and a federally subsidized midmorning snack program.

Because of Wilson’s high rate of participation in the federal School Lunch Program, it qualfies as a school in severe need and gets extra federal reimbursements, so the snack program is offered free to all.

Lincoln School’s breakfast program also is free to all for the same reason, Goad said.

Goad said some of the schools covered by the private breakfast clubs might qualify for the extra federal funding if the district converted them to district-run programs, but she hasn’t crunched the numbers.

To receive the severe-need payments, a school must serve free or reduced-price lunch to at least 40 percent of its students for at least two years, Goad said. District figures indicate Jackson, Madison and Franklin schools might come close to qualifying.

Jackson and Madison have volunteer breakfast clubs, but Franklin has no breakfast.

Goad said the district is considering offering breakfast at Franklin for a week in March as a pilot project. She estimates that a school needs 75 to 80 students eating breakfast each day in order to break even.

The other schools with no breakfast programs—Craig, Harrison, Monroe and Van Buren—have the lowest percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch in the district.

No breakfast programs

Five of Janesville’s 18 school buildings don’t have free or reduced-price breakfast programs. These are the schools and the percentages of students at the schools who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch this year:

School Percentage

Franklin 40.3%

Monroe 24.3%

Van Buren 21.9%

Craig* 19%

Harrison 18.2%

* Craig sells breakfast items at full price.

Note: The free and reduced-price figures indicate families who are considered low-income, but not all families who qualify apply, especially at the high school level.

Paying for breakfast

Parker High, Marshall Middle School and the TAGOS Leadership Academy offer free and reduced-price breakfast to those who qualify by meeting federal guidelines for low-income families. Other students pay full price. Per-meal costs to students are:

-- Reduced-price: 30 cents.

-- Full price: $1.

Free, donated breakfast

Schools that have food donated for their free breakfast clubs are: Adams, Edison, Jackson, Jefferson, Madison, Roosevelt, Washington, Wilson and the Rock River Charter School. Students serve themselves at the Rock River Charter School, so no volunteers are needed.

Breakfast in Wisconsin

Empty bellies make for poor students, experts say, but Wisconsin continues to rank last among states for participation in the federal School Breakfast Program.

The state had committed in 2000 to subsidies of 10 cents per breakfast on top of the federal subsidy. But as breakfast programs proliferated around the state, the money was prorated, and the reimbursement went down to 5.5 cents a meal, said Deb Goad, manager of food services for the Janesville School District.

Gov. Jim Doyle got a $3.9 million budget proposal passed this year, which will boost the reimbursement and help school breakfast programs stay out of the red ink, Goad said.

The new reimbursement was to be 15 cents per meal, but with still more schools adding breakfast programs, that’s already been reduced to 13 cents, Goad said.

The governor’s Web site continues to advocate a guarantee of breakfast at every Wisconsin school in the state.

Breakfast funding became one of the many political footballs as the Democrats and Republicans debated taxes and spending in the most recent state budget, said Kelley Flury, a spokeswoman for Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit.

Assembly Republicans wanted it out, Flury said, but the Democrats prevailed.

“We have a responsibility to our kids to vastly improve our participation in school breakfast, and it’s an obligation that extends beyond just government,” the Governor says on his Web site. “Local businesses and foundations must also join in this effort to help school districts pay for the startup costs, and I’m committed to working with the health care industry and local businesses around the state to show how important their investment is in these programs.”

Last updated: 11:47 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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