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A powerful educational tool

02/21/2008

To The Editor:

A letter to our legislators:

We all want our students to reach their potential and succeed in school -- our future depends on it. As educators, we ask Vermont to support H.333, making free breakfast available to the 7,500 reduced price eligible students, and ensuring they can concentrate on learning. School breakfast is a powerful educational tool -- improving achievement scores, reducing absences and tardiness, improving behavior and even reducing obesity among students. This educational tool is out of reach for many low income students who are in the reduced price category. School food services around the state tell the same story: A child stops eating breakfast when their family starts to make a little more money and is no longer eligible for free breakfast. These students eat breakfast about half as often as free eligible students and it shows in their ability to learn. 

That families whose children qualify for reduced price meals do not have the money to pay for breakfast is no surprise when you consider that they make between 130 to 185 percent of poverty or $26,845 to $38,203 for a family of four -- well below the $49,685 required for this family to meet basic needs according to the Joint Fiscal Office of the Vermont Legislature. These payment categories for school meals were set up at a time when the calculation for the poverty level was more in keeping with reality.

H.333 would not only feed hungry children but would also support our struggling school meal programs. It is estimated that the state money provided by H.333 would leverage an additional $280,000 in federal funds for school meals.

The recent report from the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) shows that far fewer low income students, those eligible for free and reduced price meals, test proficient or higher in math, reading and writing than their more affluent peers. Providing breakfast to all of these students may well give them the leg up they need to succeed in school.

Vermont should join the states of Washington and Oregon in making school breakfast accessible to some of our most vulnerable children. It is a fiscally sound way to reduce education and health care costs, and it is the right thing to do.

Robert McNamara, superintendent, Washington West SU

Ginny Burley, chair, U32 School Board and Director of Community Connections

John Hollar, chair, Montpelier School Board and Attorney

All members of the Hunger Council of Washington County

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