WNPR

Connecticut Schools Take Advantage of Free Food Program

Sep 21, 2015

In certain areas, the entire district could qualify. In others, it would only be certain schools.

Seven Connecticut school districts are offering free breakfast and lunch for all students, thanks to a new meal program offered by the federal government called the Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP. 

It's no surprise that some parents don't have time to make their kids a healthy breakfast before school. Some don't have the money for anything but the basics. Some can't feed their kids anything.

To fill in the gap, schools across the state are taking advantage the CEP, which provides breakfast and lunch to every child in the school for free, regardless of their parents' income. 

"It's quite wonderful that we know our children are getting a good breakfast and a good lunch, so a good start to the day and a good finish to the day," said Mary Conway, superintendent of schools in Vernon. Three of the seven schools there qualified for the program.

Here's how it works: the government sets certain benchmarks for who's eligible. In certain areas, the entire district could qualify. In others, it would only be certain schools, where at least 40 percent of kids are already getting free or reduced meals.

That's the case in Vernon, as well as in Middletown and East Hartford. Paul Mainuli manages the East Hartford program, where five schools are enrolled. He estimated that the subsidized program saves his district about $3,500 a month.

"Having a good lunch, or starting the day off with a good breakfast, those are all important things that public school districts need to be able to provide," Mainuli said. 

The National Institutes of Health has long noted that children who eat a healthy breakfast behave and perform better in school.

Every student from Waterbury, New Britain, Hartford, New Haven, New London, Windham, and Bridgeport has access to free breakfast and lunch through the new program, which rolled out nationwide last year.

The federal government set aside $16.3 billion for school food this year through the National School Lunch Program, though it's unclear how much money has been budgeted for the CEP.