CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some West Virginia students will see the Feed to Achieve Act in action when they return to school after summer break and reach for breakfast.
By the end of the month, $1.1 million in grants will have been distributed to all of the state's school districts to help roll out alternative breakfast strategies, which is the first phase of the statewide childhood hunger law passed in April.
"I think we're the only state that has state law that mandates breakfast, which is one of the best things to get on a nutrition program in decades," said Rick Goff, executive director of the Office of Child Nutrition at the state Department of Education.
The Feed To Achieve Act aims to provide free, nutritious breakfast and lunch for all public school students by the fall of 2015.
But there are still misconceptions about the law, Goff said. The bill was designed to essentially act as an extension of meal-access programs many schools across the state already use, with nearly 60 percent of West Virginia students qualifying for free- and reduced-priced meals.
A new delivery strategy for breakfast is the act's first required provision. It urges schools to provide meals in a different way, whether that means providing grab-and-go meals for tardy students or serving breakfast in the classroom.
Twenty-one of the state's 55 counties have already started implementing some sort of alternative breakfast strategy in all of their schools, in hopes of better test scores and fewer bellyaches.
Others have decided to not implement the new system until its 2015 deadline, Goff said.
Feed To Achieve funds have already been established in all counties, which will act as public/private partnerships that will allow contributions toward free meals for students, Goff said, but building a universal free-meal program is more complicated.
"The misconception is that it's going to feed everyone for free. That's not the case. But, it is the goal. What you're able to do is dependent on how much funding you have," he said. "We have to be very cognizant of the fact that if we collect private-sector funds, we need to be careful not to implement programs that aren't sustainable."
For example, Goff said, if an individual or a company donated $10,000 to a school district, it's unlikely a universal feeding program could be maintained, but the funding could be used to purchase food to send home or used for transportation costs to get students to feeding sites.
Goff, who has worked for the Department of Education for 23 years, said the Feed to Achieve regulations are a work in progress, and will be for the next few years. That's the problem with an unprecedented move like this one.