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Alberta NDP falls short on school breakfast and lunch programs: Public Health Group

A University of Alberta grad student group wants the government to fulfill its campaign promise of $60 million for a province-wide school breakfast program.

Alexandra Kanters, a public health grad student at the University of Alberta, says the Alberta NDP needs to commit to its campaign promise of $60 million for school breakfast programs across the province.

Kevin Tuong / For Metro

Alexandra Kanters, a public health grad student at the University of Alberta, says the Alberta NDP needs to commit to its campaign promise of $60 million for school breakfast programs across the province.

Alberta’s NDP government is under fire for falling short on promises to create a province-wide school breakfast program.

A group of University of Alberta grad students called Student Advocates for Public Health (SAPH) urged the province Wednesday to fulfill its 2014 campaign pledge to spend $60 million to help feed low-income children.

Alberta committed $10 million in its latest budget for elementary lunch programs at 40 school boards —but the group pointed out that's $50 million less than the initial pledge.

“At a minimum, we’d love to see the government commit that $60 million,” said Alexandra Kanters, a public health grad student with the U of A. “But what we’d like to see, ultimately, is a universal school foods strategy in Alberta.”

Studies have shown dramatic improvements in grades and graduation rates when kids and teens have breakfast, including reductions in suspensions and sick days, according to the Canadian Child and Youth Nutrition Program Network.

Scott Hall — a teacher who helps with a student-run, K-12 breakfast and lunch program in the Ermineskin Schools in Maskwacis — said the program goes beyond ensuring full stomachs.  

“It’s really about serving their community,” he said, referring to the students who prepare the meals every day. “They’re learning a whole bunch of skills they wouldn’t have normally learned.”

Students preparing food at the Ermineskin Schools.

Submitted

Students preparing food at the Ermineskin Schools.

Hall said the school provides meals at a cost of 72 cents per student per day.

“We’d need about $100 or $120 million to bring this province-wide,“ he said. “But the benefits of that is Albertans are saving thousands of dollars (in grocery costs).”

In response to grad student group’s push, Education Minister David Eggen re-iterated the government’s current and past commitments, which included $3.5 million on a pilot lunch project for 14 school boards.

“Our government knows that students can’t focus on learning if they’re focusing on being hungry,” he said in an emailed statement. “We will be sharing more details about the next phase of the ($10 million) program next week.”

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