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Jen Adach, 202-986-2200 x3018, jadach@frac.org

School Breakfast Program Falls Short of Meeting Growing Need
Two New Reports Find More Low-Income Children Starting the Day with Breakfast,
But Program Not Growing Fast Enough

School Breakfast Scorecard (pdf)
School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities (pdf)

Washington, D.C. – December 7, 2009 – Participation in the School Breakfast Program grew to include 8.8 million children during the 2008-2009 school year, an increase of 520,000 children over the previous school year – and the largest increase in children since the Food Research and Action Center began tracking participation in 1991. But, despite the growth, too many low-income children are missing out. Only 46.7 percent of low-income children who received school lunch also participated in the breakfast program, according to FRAC’s annual School Breakfast Scorecard.

“Nationally, we’ve seen a real increase in breakfast participation among low-income children both because of the recession and because states generally have slowly been increasing breakfast use, but participation is just not growing fast enough,” said Jim Weill, FRAC president. “States can do a better job in reaching more children, and also Congress needs to take steps to make it easier for schools and children to reap the benefits of school breakfast.”

In a separate analysis, School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities, FRAC looked at school breakfast participation and trends in 25 large urban districts. In the surveyed districts, participation during the 2008-2009 school year ranged from a high of 95.7 percent in Newark to a low of 30.9 percent in Chicago. The analysis also found that higher rates of breakfast participation were achieved by school districts that offered breakfast free to all students (also known as universal breakfast), served breakfast in the classroom at the start of the school day rather than in the cafeteria, or offered bagged “grab and go” breakfasts from carts in the hallway.

  • San Diego and Baltimore City saw dramatic increases in participation after implementing large-scale classroom breakfast programs. San Diego boosted participation by an impressive 40.3 percent, and Baltimore City experienced a 29.5 percent increase.
  • The three top performing school districts – Newark (N.J.), Columbus (Ohio), and Boston (Mass.) – all operated programs that served breakfast in the classroom at no charge to the students in many or all schools.

“Classroom breakfast works. All the top performing school districts in this report have extensive classroom breakfast programs, and we can see that it leads to higher participation,” said Weill. “It also boosts test scores and learning, reduces school nurse visits, and positively affects every aspect of school. When Congress takes up the reauthorization of the child nutrition programs, one priority must be supporting schools that wish to start and expand in-classroom breakfast programs. It’s a small investment that would make a big difference to low-income children.”

In both reports, FRAC outlined a series of recommendations for the upcoming Congressional reauthorization of the child nutrition programs, including:

  • Creating a grant program to support the start-up and expansion of universal and in-classroom school breakfast programs, especially in schools with high proportions of low-income children;
  • Expanding universal school meal programs (offered free for all children) by reducing or eliminating paper applications, using alternative methods for determining eligibility, and thereby reaching more children while reducing administrative costs for school districts that serve a high percentage of low-income children;
  • Raising the income eligibility cut-off for free meals to 185 percent of poverty, and eliminating the reduced-price copayment for near-poor families that is deterring participation; and
  • Providing USDA commodities to schools for breakfast meals.

“Congress needs to make it easier for children to participate in the School Breakfast Program and to support schools that want to expand participation. President Obama made it a goal to end childhood hunger by 2015, and expanding the reach of the School Breakfast Program is a critical part of achieving that goal,” said Weill.

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. FRAC also sets a participation goal for states and cities to achieve. Nationally, if the number of low-income children who participated in the School Breakfast Program increased from 46.7 to 60 for every 100 who participated in the lunch program, more than 2.5 million more children would eat a healthy school breakfast every day, and states would receive an additional $579 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, more than half a million additional students would have eaten a healthy school breakfast and the urban districts would have collected an additional $136 million in federal child nutrition funding.

About the reports:
The full report, School Breakfast Scorecard, is available at www.frac.org/pdf/breakfast09.pdf. To measure the reach of the School Breakfast Program in each state, FRAC compares the number of schools and the number of low-income children that participate in breakfast to those that participate in the National School Lunch Program. FRAC also sets a participation goal of reaching 60 children with breakfast for every 100 receiving lunch as a way to gauge each state’s progress and the costs of underparticipation in the program.

For Breakfast in America’s Big Cities, FRAC surveyed 25 large urban school districts across the country on school breakfast participation rates and policies. The school districts included in the report are: Atlanta Public Schools (Ga.); Baltimore City Public Schools (Md.); Boston Public Schools (Mass.); Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (N.C.); Chicago Public Schools (Ill.); Cleveland Metropolitan School District (Ohio); Columbus Public Schools (Ohio); Dallas Independent School District (Tex.); Denver Public Schools (Colo.); District of Columbia Public Schools (D.C.); Houston Independent School District (Tex.); Little Rock Public Schools (Ark.); Los Angeles Unified School District (Calif.); Miami-Dade County Public Schools (Fla.); Milwaukee Public Schools (Wisc.); Minneapolis School District (Minn.); Newark Public Schools (N.J.); New York City Department of Education (N.Y.); Oakland Unified School District (Calif.); Oklahoma City Public Schools (Okla.); Omaha Public Schools (Neb.); Philadelphia School District (Pa.); Pittsburgh Public Schools (Pa.); San Diego Unified School District (Calif.); and Seattle Public Schools (Wash.). For urban school districts, FRAC sets a higher participation goal of 70 percent. The full report is available at www.frac.org/pdf/urbanbreakfast09.pdf.

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The Food Research and Action Center (www.frac.org) is the leading national nonprofit organization working to improve public policies and public-private partnerships to eradicate hunger and undernutrition in the United States.

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