HARVARD – Last year, students in School District 50 ate for free during the week of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.
The results: Classes were better attended, and students were better behaved, school officials say. Now the district is hoping the same will be true all school year at Jefferson School, Crosby Elementary and Washington School, where the district has qualified for a Community Eligibility Option.
Through the federally funded program, the district will for the first time provide free meals to all elementary students regardless of their economic standing.
“When we offered breakfast through ISAT, we saw positive results,” spokesman Bill Clow said. “We’ve known for a long time that good nutrition helps education.”
Through the program, schools with at least 40 percent of students identified as in need receive an established reimbursement for each lunch they hand out and agree to cover any excess costs themselves.
District 50 – with elementary schools registering a need rate of 41 percent – has been approved to receive $3.01 back for about two-thirds of lunches and $1.89 back for two-thirds of breakfasts. It will be reimbursed 36 cents and 28 cents, respectively, for the other one-third of lunches and breakfasts.
Harvard pays $2.32 per lunch and $1.26 per breakfast through its current food services contract.
Using those figures, for 1,000 lunches, the district pays $2,320 and will get reimbursed $2,101. For 1,000 breakfasts, the district pays $1,260 and will get reimbursed $1,337.
Business manager Mary Taylor said the district expects the money to be enough to cover all meals in full, with some funds potentially going toward overhead costs to keep up the kitchen.
Clow said the district does not expect to take on any of the expenses itself.
“The projections that we did, we feel very comfortable that we’ll be within that,” Clow said.
Already the program is causing a steep jump in the number of children eating school meals, specifically breakfast.
Last year, Crosby served about 250 breakfasts per day on average. It served 625 breakfasts each of the first two days of school, which started Wednesday.
A similar jump occurred at Jefferson, where the breakfast total increased from an average of about 100 last year to about 345 breakfasts each of the first two days.
Washington School, a preschool, doesn’t serve breakfast.
In past years, the school’s students had relied heavily on the free and reduced lunch program, for which about 60 percent of District 50 students qualify.
Taylor said the district could choose to opt out of the Community Eligibility Option after a year if it doesn’t work out as planned.
“We’re going to be evaluating the program,” she said.