WASHINGTON COUNTY - Students who attend Vernon Elementary School and the Washington Institute for Specialized Education could have the option of receiving free breakfast - regardless of household income - when school resumes next month.

The schools were identified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as eligible for the program, which would require board approval following the proposal being advertised twice for public input.

The proposal had its second reading when the Washington County School Board met Monday, and the board is expected to vote in favor of the measure when it reconvenes again in regular session.

The proposal is made possible through the federally-funded Universal Free Breakfast program, which is offered at schools that have a high percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced price meals.

According to the USDA, the program will help ensure more students eat breakfast, a goal assisted not only through the meals being free of charge, but also through reducing the stigma attached to eating free breakfast at school.

Officials reason that if free breakfast is available to everyone, "students will not be as likely to skip eating out of fear of being labeled as 'poor'."

Roughly 50 percent of students who attend Washington County schools participate in school meal programs, which are overseen through a contract with Chartwell School Dining Services and administered under the USDA.

Of that number, an average of about 40 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced school meals, according to the latest data available from Florida Kids Count, a non-profit organization which tracks statistics to help promote the well-being of the nation's children.

That 40 percent is mostly concentrated at Vernon Elementary and WISE, making those schools eligible for the federally reimbursed program.