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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Flanked by his wife, agriculture officials and a parade of elementary school students, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval on Wednesday announced the launch of an expanded statewide school breakfast program.
It's a change of pace for Sandoval, who in 2011 vetoed a bill that would have mandated Nevada schools to provide breakfast at any public or charter school. But the popular Republican governor said he recognizes the importance of such programs and proposed adding $2 million in his two-year budget to fund special grants for expanded school breakfasts.
"This is a big priority for me," he said at a news conference inside Carson City's Empire Elementary School.
The conference served as an official launch for the "Nevada School Breakfast Challenge," an attempt to raise breakfast participation by 20 percent statewide.
The competition is among all the 528 Nevada schools that already provide a school breakfast, and the schools that increase their breakfast participation the most will be awarded several thousand dollars in Wal-Mart gift cards. The $2 million in grant funds will go toward schools that want to increase their breakfast participation.
Of the 235,000 Nevada students who qualified for a free or reduced breakfast in October, only around 83,000 actually used the program, agricultural department official Donnell Barton said. If every eligible student used the program, Nevada could receive upward of $47 million in matching federal funds, she said.
Sandoval vetoed a bill in 2011 that would require free breakfast at any public or charter school, saying in a veto message that local school officials were "currently capable of determining how best to administer nutrition programs for their students."
The bill was opposed by a number of rural school districts, who said complying with the program would be too expensive. Sandoval said Wednesday that his 2011 veto was because school districts opposed the bill.
For students at Empire Elementary School, increased awareness about school breakfast helps them worry more about class and less about food.
"Since we've been having breakfast, I've been starting to do good on my tests," 11-year-old Fatima Marquez said. "I've been focusing. I haven't been going hungry."
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