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School breakfast bill clears Nevada Senate

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Senate on Thursday approved one of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s education measures, a bill to provide more low-income students with breakfast at the start of the school day.

Senate Bill 503 would implement a $2 million grant program so more schools can offer “breakfast after the bell.” The money is included in Sandoval’s $7.3 billion general fund budget.

State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said the program would ensure that children will not have to go hungry and would be better able to learn. SB503 passed 17-2, with Republican Sens. James Settelmeyer of Minden and Don Gustavson of Sparks voting no.

The bill now goes to the Assembly.

In earlier testimony before Senate committees, Jim Barbee, director of the Nevada Department of Agriculture, said schools where 70 percent of the student population is eligible for free or reduced-price lunches would be eligible for grants to help them implement the program.

Schools would decide how best to do that, such as whether students are served in a cafeteria or given “grab-and-go” sacked meals.

Nevada first lady Kathleen Sandoval also testified in support of the bill when it was heard by the Senate Education Committee. Sandoval said students are better able to concentrate on learning when they are not hungry.

Officials estimate nearly 94,000 students in 120 schools across Nevada could benefit from the program. In Clark County, officials said 82 schools that don’t already have breakfast programs would be added.

Administration officials said the $2 million grant money would leverage roughly $16 million in reimbursements from the federal government. Schools receive $1.93 for every free breakfast provided; $1.63 for reduced-price breakfasts; and 28 cents for paid breakfasts. Schools where 40 percent of meals are served free or at reduced costs can receive up to an extra 30 cents.

Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty rate are eligible for free meals.

Breakfast programs have been criticized in the past for excessive waste.

In 2011-12, a report by the nonprofit group Food Research and Action Center said Clark County increased the number of meals by 46 percent over the previous year, but much of the food was being thrown away.

School officials have said they are aware of the problem and have taken steps to try to provide more food that children like to eat. They also donate leftovers to food banks or make it available later in the day for students to take home or eat at school during the day.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb.

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