Although 985 students in the Barnegat school district are eligible for the federal reduced-fee or free breakfast program, only 34 have taken advantage of it, according to a study done by the
The 985 students represent 31 percent of the district's total enrollment, which includes the elementary and middle schools and Barnegat High School.
If all eligible students were enrolled in the program, the district would be reimbursed $169,177 in federal funds, the study states.
State law mandates that all school districts where more than 20 percent
of students are eligible for the program must offer breakfast.
The study examined data of eligible school districts from around the
state. New Jersey ranks 46th nationwide for participants in the school
breakfast program, according to the study.
"School breakfast addresses a major barrier to learning," said Cecilia
Zalkind, executive director of ACNJ, in a statement. "School districts
should be commended for stepping up to meet the school breakfast
challenge. Unfortunately, there is much work to do."
Zelkin said U.S. Census data showed that the number of low-income New
Jersey children has grown 19 percent in the past five years, meaning
more children that ever could be eligible.
The free and reduced meal program itself is funded by the federal
government and administered by the state Department of Agriculture.
County-wide, 34 percent of eligible students take advantage of the
program. In Stafford, 40 percent of eligible students ate at school; in
Berkeley, participation was up to 32 percent.
ACNJ is calling on school districts to encourage more families to sign
their children up for the program and begin serving breakfast after
school begins rather than before the day starts, when many children are
not present to eat.