Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday announced $1.3 million in grants to 42 public school districts and public charter schools across North Carolina to expand access to healthy school breakfast for more than 51,000 students. The NC Innovative School Breakfast Grants were funded through federal funds directed by the Governor in October 2023.

Iredell-Statesville Schools is among the grant recipients.

“Our public schools not only provide safe places for children to learn, but also healthy meals for students who sometimes face food insecurity at home,” Cooper said. “These grants will help more public schools provide breakfast for children in the classroom so they can start their day ready to learn and be successful.”

Public schools provide free- or reduced-price meals for children and nearly 60 percent of North Carolina public school students qualify for free- or reduced-price meals. Many children rely on these school meals for daily nutritional needs. Nearly one in six children in North Carolina live in households without consistent access to food.

These grants are part of the governor’s ongoing commitment to public education. Cooper has declared 2024 the “Year of Public Schools” and is spending this year highlighting North Carolina’s strong public schools, teachers and staff across the state to show the positive impacts of a well-funded public education system on the state’s economy and communities.

The school districts and charter schools receiving grant funds use the federal Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) to make school meals available to all students at no cost to their families. These districts and charter schools, which represent 258 public schools, were selected through a competitive grant program managed by the Carolina Hunger Initiative and the N.C. Alliance for Health.

“School meals are an instructional intervention,” said Lou Anne Crumpler, director of the Carolina Hunger Initiative. “From reducing chronic absenteeism to improving reading achievement, small changes in how school breakfast is served can make big impacts on student success. We appreciate Gov. Cooper’s commitment to providing access to healthy breakfast at school to more students.”

“We know that hungry kids can’t learn,” added Morgan Wittman Gramann, executive director of the NC Alliance for Health. “These grants enable schools to find creative ways to make sure that every child has the nutrition that they need to focus on learning.”

The NC Innovative School Breakfast Grants will go to school districts and charter schools that implement innovative school breakfast models to expand student participation in school breakfast.

These models include Breakfast in the Classroom, Second Chance Breakfast, and Grab and Go Breakfast. Innovative school breakfast models have been shown to increase school breakfast participation, especially among students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Research shows that eating a healthy school breakfast and lunch improves student attendance, discipline, and academic performance.

The 42 grant awardees include school districts and charter schools statewide, from Cherokee County Schools in the west to Tyrrell County Schools in the east. Funds will be used to purchase kitchen equipment to increase meal prep capacity and serving equipment to more easily and efficiently distribute meals to students. Some programs have already started, and others will begin in the next school year.

All the selected schools participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program, a federal program that provides free meals for all students in schools with high percentages of low-income and at-risk students. Many are participating in CEP for the first time this school year. These grants will allow districts to gain maximum access to federal reimbursement funds for free meals for students. Even when meals are available to students at no cost, barriers such as stigma, time, and location can prevent students from eating breakfast.