Although 36 percent of Central Regional students qualify for the federal free breakfast
program participate, only 16 percent take advantage of it, according to a study by the Advocates for Children Of New Jersey.
Central Regional has 696 students who are eligible to participate in the program, roughly 36 percent of the total school population in the district's high school and middle school. Of that amount, only 114 students are enrolled, according the study figures.
If more eligible students were enrolled in the program, the district would receive $154,520 in federal reimbursement funds, the study found.
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.