ELGIN, Ill. – An Illinois school district is fighting back against a federal mandate for low-income schools to serve “Breakfast After the Bell” based on the enormous cost and lost instructional time for the program.
The Elgin Area School District U-46 is among numerous school districts across the country grappling with how to implement the federal mandate, which requires schools with 70 percent or more low income students to start a Breakfast After the Bell program next fall.
But Jeff King, U-46’s operations officer, told the Chicago Daily Herald the program is slated to add significant costs to the district’s $875,000 breakfast program, which is currently a roughly $245,000 expense after state and federal reimbursements.
“Since we already subsidize the breakfast program, this would add additional cost to that subsidy,” he said. “One of our options through the mandate is we can opt out, if the reimbursement is not covering the cost, which it will not.”
If the district complies with the mandate, it would drive up breakfast expenses to nearly $300,000 a year, King said.
But the money is only one factor.
Lost instructional time for students could also pose a problem that district administrators would rather avoid, he said.
“We already know it’s a loss. We already subsidize. Adding the instructional time would just compound that factor,” King said. “What we are proposing is just to opt out of the elementary piece.”
According to the Chicago Tribune:
The exemption would affect 19 elementary schools in the district with high percentages of low-income students.
King said this move would not impact the operations of breakfast provided before classes start, which has been a long-running fixture in schools. More than 2,000 elementary students receive breakfast at District U46 schools, he said.
An exemption to the Breakfast After the Bell program requires district officials to hold a public meeting on the matter before taking a vote. That meeting is scheduled for Monday, with a public comment period open from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the district board room in Elgin.
The board is expected to officially vote on the exemption at another meeting April 24, the Daily Herald reports.
The change comes amid calls from Republican lawmakers in Washington D.C. to scrap federal school food regulations ushered in during the Obama administration. Tightened regulations on calories, fat, sugar, salt and other nutritional elements have plagued public schools since they went into effect in 2012 at the behest of former first lady Michelle Obama.
More than 1.4 million students have dropped out of the National School Lunch Program in the years since, as cafeteria food waste has skyrocketed by an estimated $1 billion per year.
U-46 is among several area school districts with high proportions of low-income students that would be forced to implement a Breakfast After the Bell program if they do not secure a waiver.
In some districts, schools started similar programs years ago, while others would serve breakfast in classrooms for the first time.
“We are so far ahead of the curve,” Addison Elementary District 4 superintendent of business Marcy Boyan told the Daily Herald. “We were seeing the kids were not getting here in time for the breakfast that was offered before the bell, so we were proactive. Kids and parents get here just in time to get to class. We noticed that some of our students were hungry.”
In the Addison district, the 369,925 breakfasts served through the program last year cost about $450,000, and was paid for by state and federal reimbursements and student fees, Boyan said.
In the Wheeling School District 21, about a quarter of the district’s elementary schools would be forced to participate in Breakfast After the Bell, though the specific cost and logistics of the new program are still in the works.
The current before the bell breakfast program in the Wheeling district costs about $131,000 a year, spokeswoman Kara Beach said.
“We do plan to implement a (Breakfast After the Bell) program,” she said. “At this point, we are just working on figuring out what that looks like.”