Woodward: Wait and see on free school lunches

CHARLESTON – West Virginia is trying to be the first state in the nation to give free breakfast and lunch to every child in the state’s schools.

The state Senate unanimously passed a bill last week to create public-private partnerships to fund the expanded lunches. The bill also attempts to increase participation in the current meal programs, which would bring the state more federal funding.

Wood County Schools Assistant Superintendent Sue Woodward said the issue was for the board to decide. And there were still a lot of questions surrounding the proposed legislation.

“As a bill … I haven’t heard any comment from any of our board members,” she said.

Under the proposal, every county board of education will set up foundations to solicit private donations. The bill stipulates that every dollar in donations must be used to buy food, not for administrative purposes. As money becomes available, free meals would be provided for every elementary school child with hopes the program could be expanded to all students.

No additional state funds would be used.

“Right now, all we have is the raw passage of the bill by the Senate with a lot of questions in the House and no tentative procedural guidelines,” Woodward added. “We would need to see what might come off the plate from the tremendous support Wood County students already receive from our community.”

Woodward noted churches and social organizations provide bag meals for weekends at some schools. There is also a summer feeding program at sites throughout the county to assist when students aren’t in school.

Last year, members of the Wood County Board of Education voted against participating in a national nutrition program that would have provided free meals to students. At the time, Wood County BOE members expressed concerns the program did not benefit students in all 27 schools. Officials had planned to institute the program at 15 area elementary schools and two middle schools.

Board members also took issue with the idea of all children at a school getting free meals, including those from relatively well-to-do families.