Feed to Achieve Act unanimously passes full WV Senate - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Feed to Achieve Act unanimously passes full WV Senate

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More West Virginia public school students might soon be receiving free lunches at school.

Senate Bill 663, nicknamed the West Virginia Feed to Achieve Act, unanimously passed the Senate March 29.

The bill, which originated in the Senate's Select Committee on Children and Poverty, would require county boards of education to adopt delivery systems to be sure all students have an adequate opportunity to eat breakfast, lunch or other food throughout the day.

The committee's chairman, Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, explained to lawmakers those systems could mean serving breakfast in the classroom, after the first class period or setting up breakfast for students to "grab and go."

Unger said the program would be phased in, starting with elementary school students first, with the intention of expanding through 12th grade. He said the West Virginia Department of Education would assist each county board of education establish public-private partnerships.

Public money will be donated and the law would stipulate that money only be used to feed children and not for any administrative costs. Unger said the privately donated money would be audited as part of county school boards' annual audits, and the state Office of Child Nutrition would report to the Legislature about the program each year, starting with 2015.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, clarified that the program would not take place unless sufficient funds were available. Unger explained participation levels in the state schools' free breakfast and lunch programs hover at about 36 percent currently, but if participation goes up, more federal funds would be available for it. He said a 20 percent increase would get $13 million in federal funds.

"Then private-sector dollars would augment that program, therefore providing nutritious meals and expanding that outreach," Unger said.

Unger said allowing counties and states to set up a private-public partnership would be new to the state.

The bill now goes to the House of Delegates for debate.