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Full Stomachs Equal Full Minds in Illinois

A new law in Illinois requires schools statewide to implement a breakfast programfor students if at least 40 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, the law will affect about 360 schools statewide.

The program is based on school eligibility as opposed to district eligibility. One of the challenges Illinois will face implementing the law will be the tremendous number of school districts ranging in sizes and capabilities.

"It may be difficult for the smaller schools to meet the requirements," says Ruth Jonen, director of foodservice at Township HSD 211 and President-Elect of SNA, "but the intent of the law is to help support the educational process, particularly for kids who are coming from disadvantaged homes."

Studies conclusively link proper nutrition with cognitive ability. The goal of the statewide breakfast program is to help Illinois children perform and behave better in school.

At the same time, costs of the program are raising concerns among school nutrition departments across the state. Although there are start-up incentives for the breakfast program—up to $3,500 in state funding and $2,700 in federal grants—directors are more concerned about how they will fund operating costs on a continuing basis.

"Finding a way to put the program in place, staff it and sustain it over time will be the critical thing," says Jonen.

"This program will require not only the support of the entire staff, but the enthusiastic support of the entire staff, from the facilities staff to the school administration," she adds.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the Childhood Hunger Relief Act on Feb. 15. Qualifying schools will have three months to start serving.

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