Rep. Cherylin Peniston, D-Westminster, said she scrambled but succeeded in introducing a bill today that would provide $124,000 to pay for school breakfasts for the needy after the funding was denied by Republican members of the Colorado Joint Budget Committee (JBC).
“Nobody expected this,” Peniston told The Colorado Independent. She said that $124,000 has already been appropriated and is sitting in a cash fund to use for the program. “To have [the JBC member Republicans] lock down on this, that just made no sense. No one prepared for it, so we are all kind of scrambling. But the legislation is now a bill and it is moving forward.”
Republican members of the JBC last week decided to cut funding to the Colorado Department of Education’s free breakfast program in light of the need for strong budget cutting measures this year. However, Democrats have rallied behind the program and asserted that many families are unlikely to be able to pay 30 cents per meal for their children.
Peniston said her bill will appropriate the funds needed to keep the Start Smart Nutrition Program going through the year in response to the Department of Education’s request for an additional $124,229.
“It simply says that we are going to appropriate the $124,000 that it takes for this program to make up for the shortfall from last year and continue it for this this year,” Peniston said. “It is simple to the point.”
Peniston drew on her teaching experience in making her decision to craft the legislation.
She explained that she had seen numerous times how the effects of a good morning meal translated into better student focus and achievement.
Pointing to Adam’s County School District 50, which is the main school district in Peniston’s House District 35, Peniston said a majority of children were likely to lose access to nutritious meals.
“Eighty-three percent of the elementary and middle school kids in my house district are below the poverty line. Imagine 83 percent of our kids, it is very significant,” Peniston said. “I am doing it not only for the kids of my community, primarily that, but for the kids of the state. We know in many cases for those kids the food they get at school is the only food they might get or the only nutritious food they might get in a day.”
Children in families earning less than 130 percent of the poverty level will continue to receive free breakfasts regardless of whether Peniston’s bill passes. Her bill would restore funding to provide free breakfasts to children in families that earn between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level.