School Breakfast Participation Continues Much-Needed Increase

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FRAC Reports Find Great Success with Breakfast in the Classroom Programs

Participation in the national School Breakfast Program continued its steady increase, with 9.8 million low-income children eating breakfast on an average day during the 2010-2011 school year, according to the Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) annual School Breakfast Scorecard (pdf). Still, the number of low-income children eating breakfast is well behind the number of children eating lunch, with less than half (48.2 percent) of low-income children receiving school lunch also receiving breakfast.

Participation grew very rapidly, however, in states and school districts that adopted widespread breakfast in the classroom programs. Washington, D.C. experienced a 32 percent increase in the number of children eating breakfast at school due to widespread implementation of breakfast in the classroom, as fostered by the District’s Healthy Schools Act. The top performing states – the District of Columbia, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Vermont – all have numerous schools operating strong breakfast in the classroom programs.

“School breakfast is crucial for children’s learning as well as their nutrition and health,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “This is as much an academic excellence program as it is an anti-hunger program. And states and schools that want to get serious about increasing breakfast participation have to get serious about implementing breakfast in the classroom.”

FRAC’s related analysis, School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities (pdf), also shows the impact of breakfast in the classroom on participation. Looking at school breakfast participation and trends in 26 large urban districts, the report found that the districts serving breakfast in the classroom have the highest participation rates. The four top-performing districts – Newark (N.J.), Detroit (Mich.), Houston (Tex.), and Washington, D.C. – feature programs in which all students are offered breakfast at no charge, with most eating in the classroom at the beginning of the school day. Like Washington, D.C., the Houston Independent School District also saw a dramatic increase in participation by implementing breakfast in the classroom in nearly all of its elementary schools.

FRAC measures School Breakfast Program participation by comparing the number of low-income children receiving school breakfast to the number of such children receiving school lunch. Participation among states ranged from a high of 64.2 percent in Washington, D.C. to a low of 33.7 percent in Nevada. Among the surveyed school districts, participation ranged from a high of 87.2 percent in Newark Public Schools to a low of 33.9 percent in New York City.

Low participation means missed meals for hungry children and missed dollars for the state and city. If states could increase participation so they reach 60 children with breakfast for every 100 that also eat lunch, FRAC estimates that an additional 2.4 million low-income children would be added to the breakfast program and states would have received an additional $583 million in child nutrition funding.

In the city analysis, FRAC sets a higher goal of 70 percent for urban school districts to achieve. If each surveyed district boosted participation to reach 70 low-income children with breakfast for every 100 that received free and reduced-price lunch, 528,916 additional students would have eaten a healthy school breakfast and the 26 school districts would have collected an additional $136.5 million in federal child nutrition funding.

Increasing participation will be key to helping schools implement the important new federal nutrition quality standards for breakfast over the next three school years. Schools with higher breakfast participation rates are able to maximize savings from economies of scale both in food purchases and labor costs.

“The fact that many parts of the country managed to increase participation is testimony to the hard work of schools, advocates, and state and federal officials to expand the School Breakfast Program,” said Weill. “Still, given the high levels of need, more must be done to encourage and grow participation. Better nutrition in school meals, growing attention to breakfast in the classroom as a strategy, and the ongoing push for academic excellence should be a trifecta driving breakfast participation and growth.”

Nationally, participation in the School Breakfast Program grew to include 9.8 million low-income children during the 2010-2011 school year, an increase of 354,000 children (3.8 percent), compared to the prior school year. Since the 2007-2008 school year, when the recession began, the School Breakfast Program has grown by 18.6 percent, serving an additional 1.5 million low-income children a healthy breakfast each day.

The full reports are available at http://www.frac.org.

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) is the lead advocacy organization working to end hunger in America through stronger public policies. For more information, visit http://www.frac.org. Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/ foodresearchandactioncenter or follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/fractweets.

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