Some parents and students will start to see the roll-out of a healthy school lunch program, which will be provided to students at a maximum cost of $5, MLAs heard on Tuesday.
A pilot project, to be implemented at six schools starting this month, will also provide financial assistance for families who might find this cost to be a barrier. The lunch options will provide locally-produced food and will also an educational component.
Staff with the Department of Education and Lifelong Learning provided an update on the program to members of a standing committee on Tuesday afternoon.
The pilot project will involve two dedicated staff working out of Kinkora Regional High School. The staff will provide meals for Amherst Cove Consolidated and Somerset Consolidated. A second component of the pilot project will work with existing food vendors at École Pierre Chiasson, West Kent and Montague Regional High.
The goal of the pilot is to prepare the school lunch program to be implemented across all 62 schools in P.E.I. by the fall of 2020.
John Cummings, executive director of education services with the Department of Education, said the program would be operated and overseen by a non-profit organization, separate from school administrators.
During the meeting, Liberal MLA Heath MacDonald questioned why the lunch program would not simply be provided to all students, free of charge.
"We're likely looking at somewhere in the vicinity of $300,000 to $500,000 a year to feed, likely, every child in the schools,” MacDonald said.
"Would it not be wise for government to say, 'you know what? Why don't we just do this for a year and pay for it?'"
“Are you ever fully ready for a pilot? You’re trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work.”
Education Minister Brad Trivers said he was attempting to make the program fiscally responsible. As part of the pilot, parents within the Kinkora family of schools will be able to pay for the food program online, while parents who find the cost prohibitive could be given financial assistance.
"We will see how many people actually choose to pay and how many don't," Trivers said.
"This is part of what the pilot's going to find out."
Trivers added the pilot project will measure how many more students will be buying their lunch with the reduced cost and altered menu.
Progressive Conservative MLA James Aylward asked about schools that have contracts with existing food service providers, such as Chartwells.
“When you have a for-profit organization preparing food, is the $5 price-point going to have to cover not only the cost but the profit margin as well?”
Cummings said a grant would likely be provided to private vendors to lower prices for meals.
“There may need to be a supplement provided to that vendor to achieve that," Cummings said.
Green MLA Michelle Beaton asked Trivers and education staff if the new program is currently ready to be implemented.
“Are you ever fully ready for a pilot?” Trivers said, adding the pilot project will involved trial and error.
“You’re trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work.”