Less than one-fifth of Lacey students who qualify for free
or reduced-priced breakfast take advantage of the program, a report
released Tuesday finds.
Lacey, like all school districts
where more than 20 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced
price meals, must offer breakfast by state law. The district complies
with the law and offers a breakfast program to students, but only a
minimal number of those who qualify for free or reduced price meals take
advantage, according to a study conducted by Advocates for Children of
Data from the state departments of Education and
Agriculture show that 1,096 Lacey students – 24
percent of pupils – are eligible. Of those students, just 16 percent
take advantage of free and reduced priced breakfast, which the advocacy
group says would give them an advantage in the classroom all day.
"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.
is much work to do."
Zelkind 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 than ever could be eligible.
free and reduced meal program itself is funded by the federal
government and administered by the state Department of Agriculture. If
every Lacey student eligible for the program took
advantage of it, the district would be reimbursed $239,427, according to
Lacey ranks near the bottom,
percentage-wise, of Ocean County districts. 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.