All Toledo Public School students can eat breakfast for free this year, under the expansion of a pilot program tested last year.
School officials say that offering food free for every student will help convince more to pick up the morning meal, improving the learning environment and feeding students who often can’t get healthy meals at home.
By offering the food free to every student, TPS officials said, poor students don’t feel stigmatized about using federal subsidies. About 25 percent of students ate breakfast before the pilot program; usage rates jumped to almost 75 percent when breakfast was uniformly free, district officials said. Jim Gault, TPS chief academic officer, said principals in the pilot program reported fewer discipline referrals in the morning and a sharp reduction in tardies after breakfast became free.
“That is what’s awesome about it,” TPS Business Manager James Gant said.
The program is also a financial winner for TPS. While it may seem antithetical to say offering food for free will make the district money, it works because of how the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s free- and reduced-meal program reimburses districts. Schools only get money when a student eats a meal, and they get more in reimbursements for breakfasts than the food actually costs.
Each subsidized student who eats a breakfast makes TPS money. So many TPS students get subsidized meals that when more students total eat, the odds are most of those students will be subsidized, and any money lost by feeding students who aren’t subsidized is less than made from federal reimbursements.
The district loses money every year on its food service program because lunch reimbursements are less than the food costs, but Mr. Gant said he expects to eat into that gap considerably with the new breakfast program.
Students met today at DeVeaux Elementary to test new breakfast foods, with the items receiving the most favorable reviews to be offered across the district.