P.E.I. Home and School Federation, Opposition criticize for-profit involvement in school lunch plan

Both the P.E.I. Home and School Federation and the Official Opposition say the provincial government should steer clear of private, for-profit food companies in developing a new school lunch program.

Two weeks ago the province's Department of Education laid out the parameters for a pilot of the new program with two tracks — one involving private companies providing healthy meals for students, the other using Public Schools Branch staff to prepare meals at Kinkora Regional High School, distributing those to nearby schools.

"School food and profit don't really go well together," said Karla Bernard, education critic for the Green Party and chair of the province's standing committee on education and economic growth. 

"You know this isn't about making money, this is about feeding kids."

The overall plan is for government to roll out a healthy lunch program at all Island schools in the fall of 2020, based on the results of the two competing pilots involving six schools. 


Hopes for non-profit lunch program

At a meeting on Jan. 7, MLAs on the education committee were told the model used could vary from school-to-school, some using the not-for-profit model, some using private companies — Chartwells at Montague High used as one example — who already provide services in the schools.

Following a discussion at its board meeting Monday night, the P.E.I. Home and School Federation said it's hoping to see a non-profit lunch program emerge.

"When you're talking not-for-profit that means you can support local, that the well-being of children is the number one priority of such a program, not profit," said federation president Cory Thomas.

The federation has been advocating for a universal lunch program since 2015, Thomas noted. 

He said a non-profit model would receive support from donors in the community, and be more likely to incorporate local ingredients into meal plans.

"At the end of the day, our role is to advocate for children and a non-profit model would assist with poverty reduction in communities buying local," he said.

Kerry Campbell/CBC

Government is setting a maximum price point of $5 for lunches, but offering financial support so families that can't afford meals can still take part.

"I think we all agree that it's going to have potential for such a great impact long-term on P.E.I., the health of our population and an immediate impact on students' ability to learn," said Education Minister Brad Trivers.

It is not about making a profit. — Education Minister Brad Trivers

Trivers said some government funding during the pilot might end up going to the private companies involved to allow them to provide meals at the $5 price point.

He said regardless of whether schools end up preparing their own meals in-house or with a private company, the service will be the same.

'Valid concern'

"It is not about making a profit," said Trivers. "We're going to use private contractors in areas where it makes sense. Where they can deliver service at a value that we can't match in-house."

Trivers said ultimately all school lunch programs, whether non-profit or privately run, will come under the administration of a new charitable organization, which government has suggested will be supported by donations from the public and corporations.

When asked if the public might be less willing to donate to an organization paying private corporations to provide school meals, Trivers said "That's definitely a valid concern. But that's why we're doing the pilot. That's why we're giving everyone a chance to see what it looks like."

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