Randolph, Pocahontas to benefit from Feed to Achieve

Public schoolchildren in Randolph and Pocahontas counties will be among those who benefit from a new state law that will focus on improving student access to nutritious meals.

Senate Bill 663 is also called the Feed to Achieve Act, which Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin recently signed into law. The program must be in place by the 2014-2015 school year. The law will help hungry students focus on learning instead of their growling bellies. The act focuses on improving the nutrition, physical activity and health of West Virginia’s children.

No child who attends public schools should be in class hungry. While it is not the intention of the Legislature to allow or encourage parents to abdicate their responsibility to feed their children, it is our intent to make sure no child is denied nutritious meals. This bill empowers communities like Elkins and Marlinton to address this unfortunate need through public-private partnerships.

Across West Virginia, about 55 percent of West Virginia students qualify for free- and reduced-price meals through the federal School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program, but only about one of every three students statewide takes part in the school breakfast program. In some areas of the state, such as Randolph and Pocahontas counties, the number of students in need is even greater. In Randolph County, 58 percent of children qualify for free or reduced-price meals; in Pocahontas County, it is 63 percent, according to the state Department of Education.

The federal government reimburses the state for every meal served under its programs, so if the number of students participating in school meal programs increases, federal funding to the state would increase, too. Under the state law, food costs can be offset with the establishment of a nonprofit fund to raise money to help pay for meals. It is the desire of the Legislature to provide free meals to children as funding becomes available.

The funds can be used to pay food costs through any of the programs or initiatives approved by the Office of Child Nutrition, including School Breakfast Program, National School Lunch Program, Summer Food Service Program, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the farm-to-school initiative and community gardens. Funding also may be made for initiatives developed with the Department of Health and Human Resources and public-private partnerships to provide outreach and nutritional meals when students are not in school.

The Feed to Achieve Act also requires each county board of education to establish and operate school nutrition programs that provide a healthy breakfast and lunch that are made readily available to students. Additionally, all schools must adopt innovative ways to ensure all students have an adequate opportunity to eat breakfast at school.

Although county boards of education already operate school meal programs, the Feed to Achieve Act supports and supplements these programs.

The West Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Child Nutrition is in the process of developing an implementation plan for Feed to Achieve.