DPS to consider free student breakfast

May. 18, 2014 @ 10:52 PM

“Breakfast is on us.”

For the time being, that’s the unofficial slogan for the universal free breakfast program the Durham Public Schools is expected to adopt next week.

“If you want to get the stigma away, then you really need to do some positive messaging with something like, breakfast is on us,” school board member Natalie Beyer told her colleagues during a recent board work session.

Beyer’s suggestion met the approval of board members who all agreed that the catchy slogan was a good one.

Providing all students with free breakfast is seen as one way to get around the stigma associated with receiving free or reduced meals at school.

The practice also encourages more students to eat what is widely considered the most important meal of the day.

National data show that school districts with universal free breakfast programs have higher test scores, fewer disciplinary problems and more focused students.

Under the program, all DPS students could eat breakfast at school for free, regardless of their family’s financial status.

A pilot program that provided free breakfast to 22 schools has proven successful. Jim Keaten, the school district’s executive director of child nutrition services, has recommended that the district expand the universal free breakfast program to include all schools in August.

Keaten said the schools that participated in the pilot program — 11 elementary, three middle and six high schools — saw an increase in state and federal reimbursements that exceeded the loss of student revenue.

“We chose schools with some high free and reduced percentages and some low percentages so we could get a good mix and financially be able to tell whether this can sustain itself,” Keaten said,

The more meals the school district serves, the more it receives in the form of reimbursements from the state and federal governments

The 22 schools in the pilot served an additional 64,971 breakfast meals from the start of school through March 3, compared to the same period the previous school year.

Keaten said the school district received an increase in reimbursement of federal and state money of about $7,001, which means the district took in more in federal and state reimbursement dollars than it spent to feed additional children.

“In the 22 schools that we demonstrated the pilot we saw an increase in the reimbursement of federal and state money that exceeded the loss of revenue from the parents,” Keaten said. “It’s not a significant amount for the 22 schools, but any type of excess, when you’re feeding more kids and getting a bigger impact is a positive.”

According to a school district report, 64.8 percent of the 34,180 students — about 22,150 — enrolled in Durham Public schools are eligible to receive free or reduced lunches during the current school year, with the vast majority receiving free meals.

Roughly 10,854 of the students who receive free lunches are enrolled in the district’s 30 elementary schools.

About 830 elementary school children pay a reduced price for their meals and 5,035 are paying customers.

At the middle school level, 4,380 students receive free lunches while 391pay a reduced price. Nearly 2,100 students pay full price.

In the high schools, 5,149 students receive free lunches, 548 a reduced price and about 4,900 students pay full price.