“Eat for Education” Ends On Tasty Note

Mayor David Bowers

Eating has been good for education.

The two-year, 2 percent increase in the City of Roanoke’s meals tax came to a close on Saturday (June 30). The program is has raised more than $9.5 million to directly benefit Roanoke City Public Schools.

“Eat for Education,” a campaign to encourage people to frequent restaurants in the city as a way to benefit public schools, was launched with the tax increase in 2010. Thanks to the community’s support for this program, meals tax revenues, when adjusted for the rate change, grew nearly 9 percent from 2010 and recovered from the economic downturn faster than other local revenue sources.

The additional funding has helped the school system keep class sizes at a reasonable level, purchase needed books and materials, reinstate a full summer-school program and conduct reading camp for students in kindergarten through second grade, among many other accomplishments.

“Clearly, the meals-tax increase has made a significant impact on the lives of our young people,” said City Manager Chris Morrill. “This was made possible thanks to the very positive support from citizens and above all the restaurant owners and managers throughout the city. We especially wish to acknowledge restaurants that participated in the voluntary Eat for Education program, which helped to increase traffic to restaurants.”

Under the Eat for Education program, diners could enter into drawings for $50 gift certificates at participating restaurants. The program in turn benefited restaurants by marketing them through a website (www.eatforeducationroanoke.com) and Facebook.

Eat for Education’s partners are the City of Roanoke, the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Roanoke Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Roanoke Valley Hospitality Association, and Downtown Roanoke, Inc.

To celebrate the success, members of City Council, Morrill, Schools Superintendent Rita Bishop, and School Board members participated in a progressive dinner last Wednesday. The group dined at the same restaurants as the initial dinner that kicked off the meals tax increase in 2010: Table 50 for appetizers, Thelma’s Chicken and Waffles for the main course and Pops Ice Cream for dessert.

“At a time when funding for public education from Richmond has been drastically cut across Virginia, taxpayers and our local restaurants really stepped up, accepted the much-needed, two-year emergency increase in the meals tax, and guaranteed that the progress being made in Roanoke City Public Schools continues,” said Councilman Court Rosen, who initially proposed the temporary measure. “Over the course of the last two years, the city and schools have worked together to reduce costs, increase and stabilize local funding to our schools, and guarantee that our children’s futures are bright and that Roanoke’s economy continues on a prosperous course.”

The Eat for Education initiative gained both statewide and national recognition. The national publication Government Finance Review (December 2010) featured the initiative as a creative solution for cash-strapped municipalities. Eat for Education also was recognized as the best public relations program in Virginia in 2011 by the Richmond chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

Other municipalities in Virginia have considered adopting a meals tax specifically for public education. Those include Salem, which implemented an increase, and Winchester.