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State considers funding for school meals

Posted: Monday, February 01, 2010

The Alaska Legislature is considering supplementing federal reimbursement for free and reduced-price school lunches.

Senate bill 213, introduced by Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, would supplement the cost of meals for kids that are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. It would provide a base amount of $.35 for breakfast and $.15 for lunch for each eligible student (the text of the bill accidentally transposed those numbers, a staffer said). The bill uses 2009 Anchorage meal costs as a base, and districts with a higher consumer price index would receive more money.

Juneau School District Food Services supervisor Adrianne Schwartz said the proposed legislation is a good thing for two reasons.

"It can either help (schools) keep their price of a meal low ... or just help to improve the quality of your program," she said. "Right now a lot of the school districts across the state of Alaska are struggling to be able to operate their meal programs without tapping into their general budget."

Totals for the first three months of the 2009-2010 school year have the Juneau School District serving between 26,000 and 31,000 meals per month, or between 1,400 and 1,500 meals a day. The district is reimbursed between $60,000 and $72,000 per month by the federal government.

The district is reimbursed $4.37 for students who eat meals for free, $3.97 for students eating lunch at a reduced price, and $0.43 for kids who pay in full.

In the Juneau School District, lunches are $3 for students and $4.50 for adults. Students who qualify for free lunches eat for no charge. Reduced price meals are $0.40.

State supplemental reimbursement would be "very helpful," Schwartz said.

A district-run national School Breakfast Programs would be eligible for both state and federal reimbursement. The current breakfast programs in place in Juneau schools are not, though the district plans to expand the breakfast program next year to five schools that currently do not serve breakfast.

Dean Hamburg, Public Policy and Legislative Chair for the Alaska School Nutrition Association, said in a press release that 29 states already assist with USDA school meal programs and that in Alaska, up until now, only the federal government has taken responsibility for school meal reimbursements. Two in five students across Alaska qualify for free or reduced price meal provision from the USDA, Hamburg said.

SB 213 was prefiled Jan. 8. Its sponsors are Wielechowski and Sens. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, Joe Paskvan, D-Fairbanks, Linda Menard, R-Wasilla, and Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks.

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.



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