More low-income children across the country are getting the nutrition they need to learn and thrive by participating in the School Breakfast Program according to the annual School Breakfast Scorecard, released today by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). FRAC is the leading national nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States. And, while many children remain in need, on an average school day during the 2016–2017 school year, nearly 12.2 million low-income students participated in the national School Breakfast Program.
According to Jim Weill, president, Food Research & Action Center,
“The evidence is overwhelming that efforts to increase school breakfast participation pay off — less hunger, better test scores, and improved student health, to name a few.”
The biggest increase in school breakfast participation among low-income children has been in states in which the majority of schools offer breakfast at no charge to all students (most commonly through community eligibility) and serve breakfast after the start of the school day, or after the first bell.
Community Eligibility is a provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Act of 2010 that allows any district, group of schools or individual school with 40% or more identified students who are eligible for free school meals to offer free school meals to all students.
TOP RANKING STATES
The Scorecard ranks states and the District of Columbia on the basis of participation of low-income children in the School Breakfast Program. West Virginia topped the list, with New Mexico and the District of Columbia coming in second and third, respectively. West Virginia and New Mexico also exceeded FRAC’s goal for states of reaching 70 low-income children with school breakfast for every 100 who ate school lunch.
THE IMPACT OF LEGISLATION
State legislation that requires or encourages school districts to offer breakfast at no charge to all students after the bell eliminates the two main barriers to school breakfast participation — timing and stigma. Legislation has been instrumental in achieving sustainable success in the District of Columbia, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and West Virginia, as well as Nevada, for requiring high-poverty schools to implement breakfast after the bell, free breakfast to all students, or both.
The Scorecard also details the amount of money that states left on the table by not reaching more eligible children with school breakfast. Large states, such as California, Florida, and New York, have the most to gain by meeting FRAC’s 70 to 100 goal. These three states would have collectively brought in an additional $237 million in federal resources had they met the goal.
BREAKFAST AFTER THE BELL
Both the School Breakfast Scorecard and School Breakfast: Making it Work in Large School Districts, a companion report to the Scorecard, highlight how community eligibility and alternative breakfast models that move breakfast out of the cafeteria and after the first bell have been instrumental in increasing school breakfast participation. Offering breakfast after start of the school day helps schools and students overcome common barriers such as late bus arrivals, tight household budgets, and the stigma associated with school breakfast as being only for low-income children.
About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes peggyomara.com. I was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years and founded Mothering.com in 1995. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Home and A Quiet Place. I have conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please check out my email newsletter with free tips on parenting, activism, and healthy living.