Councillor seeks clarity on school nutrition funding

Nutritional lunches for kids WIKI COMMONS PHOTO
Nutritional lunches for kids WIKI COMMONS PHOTO

According to the City of Toronto website, “Student nutrition programs are a cost-effective way to promote health and learning among students.” The nutrients they provide “create healthier eating habits, help prevent obesity, support better scores in math, reading and science.”

To advance those goals, the city subsidizes breakfast, snack and lunch programs in a number of Toronto schools

Unless of course you’re a student in a private school. Then you’re on your own.

On Jan. 26, at a meeting of the city budget committee, Coun. James Pasternak tried to get to the bottom of the policy that sees the allocation of municipal resources withheld from private schools. Pasternak, a member of the budget committee, told The CJN he was unaware of any formal policy that would restrict new health-related nutrition funding only to publicly funded schools (several Jewish schools have been grandfathered into the program.)


In fact, said Pasternak, council in 2009 indicated one of the principles in the delivery of programming is its universal applicability, and in July 2012, it adopted the nutrition program “for all Toronto schools. It does not say publicly funded schools.”

Pasternak asked Dr. David McKeown, the city’s medical officer of health, to explain the policy whereby private schools are ineligible for nutrition funding. McKeown told the budget committee that the city policy was meant to “come in line with provincial funding policy. There are really two reasons the city doesn’t fund private schools. One is that the province doesn’t fund them and the approach used in ‘Nourishing Young Minds’ is our approach, to ensure that our programs get funding from both levels of government to ensure they are fully viable.

“There are significant challenges in trying to assess need in the 300 private schools in the city,” McKeown added.

Coun. Joe Mihevc also addressed the issue of nutrition funding for private schools. “That is going to create a problem,” he told the budget committee. “We have 300 private schools in the City of Toronto. Staff have told me that to get a handle on it, it will be a heck of a lot of work, and we are still this year two years to go in the regular thing.”

“The regular thing” Mihevc was referring to is the plan to bring 20 per cent of public schools under the nutrition program’s umbrella by 2018. Currently, 14 per cent of public schools are funded, with the goal to increase that to 16 per cent in 2016, en route to 20 per cent in 2018.

Including private schools in the program is something that will have to wait, Mihevc told The CJN. “Not now, but at some point, if there are kids that need supports for student nutrition, they can get it.”

“There may be some energy to look at the private schools,” once the 20 per cent goal is reached, he said. At the moment, “we have to prioritize.”

“I want to see every kid get a breakfast every morning who wants it or needs it. But right now, it’s a question of phasing it in in a logical way,” he said.

Pasternak, however, suggested McKeown was off base in saying the city was merely attempting to harmonize its funding with that of the province. “That’s not appropriate, because this is a made-in-Toronto program,” he said. “These are unelected bureaucrats who have taken it upon themselves to reject outright the applications from private schools.”


He also suggested that it was a slap in the face to faith communities, both in being led to believe in rejection letters that there was still hope for funding in subsequent years and in being dismissed so readily.

“The City of Toronto relies heavily on faith communities for social capital, for running Out of the Cold, food banks, emergency shelters, community support services, spiritual guidance,” Pasternak said. “The same people who praise the religious communities for all these great works and the social capital they invest in the programs, they say, ‘Sorry, you’re not eligible.’ It’s pulling out the rug from religious schools,” he added.

Currently, 160,000 Toronto students participate in breakfast, snack and lunch programs every day. Pasternak said Toronto allocates $9.9 million to health programs.