This is a guest post by Janet Poppendieck, Professor Emerita of Sociology at Hunter College, City University of New York, co-founder of the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College and senior fellow at the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute at the CUNY School of Public Health and Health Policy. She is the author of several books, including Free For All: Fixing School Food in America, which received the 2010 Book of the Year award from the Association for the Study of Food and Society.
Looking forward, there is still ample work to be done. FRAC’s most recent School Breakfast Scorecard reports that 56 low-income children received school breakfast for every 100 who ate school lunch. This is up from 31.5 children who ate school breakfast for every 100 that received school lunch in the first year the Scorecard began reporting this figure, but still far short of FRAC’s 70 per 100 goal which has been achieved by the top performing states, and far short of the 83.9: 100 ratio achieved by West Virginia, which mandates breakfast after the bell in all schools and makes wide use of community eligibility.
In the short term, school breakfast priorities include defending the gains we have made against budget cuts and block grants. It’s necessary to continue to build political will to protect the federal nutrition programs, including the school meal programs.
Preserving uncapped funding (providing meal reimbursements which allow increased participation and reimburse each child’s meal under consistent rules tied to schools’ or children’s incomes) is key to the success of the SBP, and maintaining and building on that success means resisting any efforts to block grant child nutrition programs. Protecting the Community Eligibility Provision and direct certification is also crucial.
In the long-term, the future of school breakfast looks bright. New nutrition standards and farm-to-school programs are improving food quality and helping to integrate fresh, local food into school meal programs around the country. Districts that have reaped the benefits of community eligibility will surely resist going back to the onerous task of collecting and processing paper applications. And we have proven breakfast after the bell models that effectively address issues of access, affordability, stigma, and timing.
We need to tap the current surge of civic engagement on behalf of our children and our schools by defending and promoting solutions that ensure a healthy meal at the start to the school day is available to all children. If there is one single message that comes through from 50 years of school breakfast history, it is that the alliance of national research and advocacy groups with state and local efforts is essential to achieving hunger-free schools.