By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4)– A free breakfast program at Colorado’s poorest schools could be scaled back. The lawmaker behind the program says it’s the only way to save it.
“In my four years I’ve never worked on an issue that I felt more fulfilled on then Breakfast after the Bell. I love this program so much I’m committed to its financial success,” says Rep. Dominick Moreno, a Democrat representing Commerce City.
The school breakfast program is his hallmark achievement and a bill born out of personal experience.
“I was one of those kids who qualified for free and reduced meals and I know how difficult it is for kids to confront the stigma of qualifying for subsidized meals.”
He carried the legislation two years ago to give every kid access to free breakfast at schools where at least 70 percent of the student body is below the poverty line.
The idea was if every kid received free breakfast then the kids that can’t afford it don’t stand out.
But, the program has created a financial strain for some schools, says Moreno, “Because such a large number of kids who don’t qualify for free and reduced meals are taking advantage of the breakfasts.”
He’s now introduced a new bill giving schools the option of charging those kids that don’t qualify for subsidized meals.
Juan Evangelista’s first grader is one of them. The family income is just above the poverty line.
“It’s heartbreaking almost to tell a kid do you want to eat breakfast or lunch today because we can only afford maybe one,” said Evangelista.
Opponents delivered empty plates to lawmakers that are symbolic of kids they say will go hungry if the bill passes – kids who may not qualify for help but can’t afford to pay either.
“Some folks who can afford it probably should but you know those folks are probably not sending their kids to where 70 percent of the student body has free and reduced lunch,” says Ricardo Martinez with Padres y Jovenes Unidos.
Moreno says the goal is to save the program long term, “The last thing I would ever try to do is take away meals from kids. That’s not what this bill does.”
Opponents worry kids who can’t afford to pay will be given different meals, causing embarrassment.
But, the bill bars schools from treating kids who can and can’t pay differently. It has the votes to pass both chambers.