Charter schools get creative to provide healthy meals for keiki

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Back in November, KHON2 found out the Department of Education dishes out $5.80 for each lunch it serves up.

But digging deeper, we learned not all public schools are under the same system.

Here’s a look how lunch is served up in the charter school system, and where your money is going.

The first thing you need to know about charter schools is that they don’t work the same way as regular public schools do. Their budget is determined by the state Legislature and is based per student.

This school year, charter schools are getting $6,840 per student. It’s up to the schools on how they spend that money, from salaries for teachers, rent for facilities, student programs, even lunch.

At Waialae Public Charter School, lunch is a priority that comes at a big cost.

“One of the things our school has tried to do is to commit to subsidizing about $40,000 a year toward student lunch to make sure there’s quality and choice,” said Kapono Ciotti, head of school. “The way we pay for that extra is out of our operating budget, so it comes out of other programs that we may not be able to have, but we really feel like nutrition is a huge part of students being successful at school.”

Waialae has hired a food service company, Sodexo, to provide meals to its students.

“So in the morning, partnering with Sodexo, we provide a fresh fruit bar and at lunch, both fresh fruit and a salad bar, and one of the things that really cool is our kids are able to serve themselves and choose what they want,” Ciotti said.

We found out these healthy lunches aren’t just an extra cost for the school. Parents pay more out of pocket too. Students who don’t qualify for free or reduced meal pay $3.50 for lunch. That’s a dollar more than what students at regular DOE schools pay.

We reached out to every charter school in the state and found out not all of them serve lunch. Some don’t have facilities, like kitchens to prepare and serve meals. Others just don’t have the money.

On Hawaii Island, a group of charter schools have come together in an effort to cut lunch costs. The Charter School Food Hui is made up of Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science, Kona Pacific Charter School, and Volcano School of Arts and Sciences.

“We’re procuring together so we can reduce the expense each individual charter school has to spend on their food program and get more for less,” explained Amalie Dorn, Volcano’s healthy food program administrator. “We have three farmers currently that are supplying us with food regularly. They grow their food just for our schools and our supplies.”

Volcano is one of about two dozen Hawaii schools that are taking part in a federal program that provides meals free of charge to students, regardless of their family income.

However, that doesn’t mean the school doesn’t pay anything. Last year, Volcano took out $60,000 from its budget to pay for its meals program.

One cost-cutting measure has students take part in the meal-making process.

“We have our cooking class and they learn how to cook breakfast items, lunch items, and dinner items,” Dorn said.

These are all actual lunches made by and served up to students.

“It’s just been a favorite all the way around,” Dorn said. “In fact, I had a couple of students say, ‘Hey Miss Amalie, I’m making what we learned in cooking class for my family.'”

The state Legislature just began their session Wednesday. One of the things lawmakers will be deciding in the coming weeks is how much money charter schools will be getting for the next school year.

Depending on that amount, we could see these meal programs change.

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