With the number of students qualifying for free or reduced meals increasing, Sarasota County School Board will consider adopting a federal program to meet students' needs.
The universal free breakfast program would fall beneath the federal National School Breakfast Program, which would provide the funding, said Beverly Girard, Director of Food and Nutrition Services for Sarasota schools. This program offers free breakfast to all students at qualified schools. The school must already have 80% or more students receiving or eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
Eleven schools in the district qualify, including Alta Vista, Booker Middle School, Emma E. Booker Elementary, Triad North, and Sarasota School for Innovative Studies (SSIS).
Sarasota County Schools already offer breakfast for students, with meals running $1.10 regularly and $0.30 for reduced-cost in the elementary schools, Girard said. The schools also partner with other community organizations to have a back-pack program for students to take home food for after school.
The revenue from the breakfast programs does not go back to the school proper, Girard said, it goes back into the school’s food and nutrition services.
The district has seen a quick escalation in students eligible for free and reduced meals, from 33% in 2006 to 52% now. That’s about 21,000 students, Girard said.
“It’s surprising to people in Sarasota,” Girard said. “When you think of our area, you don’t think about poverty.”
Girard said she didn’t think adopting the program would be faced with much opposition.
“Our community is so community- and student-minded, I believe the public hearing will be a formality,” Girard said.
The school board will meet at 3 p.m., Tuesday, July 22, at the Landings Administrative Complex, 1980 Landings Blvd, Sarasota.
The program's adoption will be voted on at the Aug. 5 meeting following the second public hearing.