Opposition is building in the legislature against a bill requiring that every Maryland county offer a breakfast program to needy children in its public schools.
The bill, which has the support of numerous religious organizations as well as the state board of education, sailed through the Ways and Means committee of the House of Delegates by a 21 to 1 vote. But as the bill comes up for a vote in the full House Tuesday, its chances dimmed considerably as 15 counties decided to exempt themselves from the requirement.
Del. R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. (D-Kent County), who comes from one of the Eastern Shore jurisdictions that wants to be exempted from the mandate, said he does not oppose the idea of children receiving breakfast from their schools, but does not think it is an area in which the state should mandate.
None of Kent County's eight schools currently offer breakfast programs, and Mitchell said, "I've never heard any outcry in my county" for these programs. He said that in seven of the eight schools there are children who would be eligible for free or reducedprice breakfasts under the proposed legislation.
In Baltimore County, School Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel has been leading the fiight against the bill. Dubel called the proposal "an extreme example of government over-kill in seeking a solution to a serious problem." He said he thought it would be better for each school to counsel parents on the importance of giving their children breakfast.
According to Del. Lucille Maurer (D-Montgomery County), sponsor of the bill, about one-fourth of Maryland schoolchildren go to school in the morning hungry. She said the causes nervousness in the youngsters and reduces their learing capacity.
A number of schools in several counties throughout the state already offer school breakfast programs. But according to Maurer, if the programs were mandated by the state, more schools would be eligible to receive an additional 10 cents per school meal from the federal government.
She said that the bill would cost the state $197,000 the first year that it was in effect, but it would generate about $1.7 million extra in federal aid for the schools.
The breakfast bill would mostly benefit schools in Prince George's County and the city of Baltimore. Currently 62 schools in Prince George's County offer a breakfast program. Under Maurer's proposal, an additional 56 would have to begin providing breakfast.
In Montgomery County, 150 schools -- more schools than in any other county in the state -- provide breakfast.
There are no breakfast programs in Baltimore, Calvert, Kent, Talbot Worcester counties.
The District of Columbia has a school breakfast program for needy children, and the state of Virginia encourages localities to offer such a program. There are breakfast programs in the Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County schools.