Montgomery, Prince George’s officials push free school breakfasts -- Gazette.Net


Standing next to a tray of breakfast burritos and milk in the Roscoe Nix Elementary School cafeteria in Silver Spring on Wednesday, elected officials in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties announced their commitment to seeing that, next year, more children have access to the most important meal of the day.

After garnering support and signatures from senators and delegates in both counties, Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin said she asked Gov. Martin O’Malley and state schools Superintendent Lillian Lowery in a Dec. 17 letter for $1.8 million more in state funding next budget year to expand the Maryland Meals for Achievement classroom breakfast program.

With the funding, the program, which provides free breakfast for all students in their classrooms, would be expanded to serve 56,896 more children in about 130 more needy schools.

This school year, the state is spending $3.38 million for services that provide 33,000 students breakfast at 271 schools; the expansion would bring the total to $5.18 million for 89,896 students in 407 schools.

“This is a prime example of when we all get together and do what is right of our children,” Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said Wednesday.

The officials are hoping for support from O’Malley, who has made it a policy goal to end childhood hunger in Maryland by 2015 and has partnered with advocacy groups such as national non-profit Share Our Strength and its No Kid Hungry campaign.

Ervin, along with Montgomery County Sen. Jamie Raskin, county Delegates Tom Hucker and Susan Lee, Prince George’s Delegate Aisha Braveboy, and Montgomery school board President Christopher Barclay said Wednesday that breakfast boosts academic achievement by improving student’s concentration.

A recent analysis by Deloitte, a consulting company, backs up their claim, said Anne Sheridan, Maryland director of the No Kid Hungry campaign. The analysis showed that schools with a classroom breakfast program have a 7.2 percent lower rate of chronic absenteeism and their students are up to 12.5 percent more likely to pass state standardized math tests, Sheridan said.

Montgomery County’s breakfast menu alternates between main entrees such as a whole grain egg-and-cheese burrito, an egg-and-cheese or sausage-and-cheese croissant, and French toast sticks, said Marla Caplon, the school system’s director of food and nutrition services. Students are also served fruit and milk or juice.

A school qualifies for the classroom program if more than 40 percent of its students are eligible for free or reduced price meals. The federal free and reduced price meal program reimburses local school districts for each meal they serve to students who qualify.

By serving all students in a school, the classroom breakfast program helps boost participation in the meal program, Sheridan said.

The program is in 40 of the 80 Montgomery County schools that qualify. The number of schools that qualify in the county is growing as the number of students qualifying for free and reduced meals is growing; the number increased by 25 percent in the last three years to more than 47,000 children.

A larger percentage of students at Roscoe Nix, a K-2 school, qualify each year, the school’s Principal Annette M. Ffolkes said.

In August 2006, the school had 340 students, 45 percent of whom qualified for free or reduced price meals. Now, the school has about 545 students, and 68 percent qualify, Ffolkes said.

Since the program came to Roscoe Nix four years ago, Ffolkes said her school has changed for the better. More students are on time to school in the morning, and their attentiveness throughout the day is better, as more are eating breakfast.

“There is definitely a difference, energy-wise,” she said.

Maryland’s program is model for similar programs across the United States, Sheridan said. Through both funding and legislation, states such as New Mexico, Connecticut and Illinois have implemented similar programs.

Ervin asked Wednesday that more funding go for Montgomery and Prince George’s schools, which have the most need. More than 25 percent of students in the state who qualify for the free or reduced meal program live in those counties, according to Ervin’s letter to O’Malley.

Ervin said that she will be garnering support from delegates in all counties to make it a priority for their jurisdictions during the 2013 General Assembly, which begins in January.