WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2016 — The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) today released its annual “School Breakfast Scorecard” (pdf) which measures states on the rate of participation of low-income children in the federally-funded School Breakfast Program. West Virginia tops the Scorecard, while Utah is at the bottom. Nationally, school breakfast participation grew steadily in the 2014-2015 school year, continuing a trend of rapid expansion over the last decade.
On an average day during the 2014-2015 school year, 11.7 million students eligible to receive free and reduced-price school meals participated in school breakfast, an increase of 4.2 percent, or nearly 475,000 children from the previous year. Overall, 44 states increased their free and reduced-price school breakfast participation in the 2014-2015 school year.
“The good news is that more low-income children across the country are starting the day with a nutritious meal to support their health and learning,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “Progress is being made; however, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Federal and state agencies, school districts, and education stakeholders must continue to build on the momentum gained in recent years to ensure many more children participate in the School Breakfast Program if we are to reap all of that program’s educational, health and anti-hunger benefits.”
FRAC measures School Breakfast Program participation by comparing the number of low-income children who eat school breakfast with those who receive school lunch. Lunch is a good benchmark of the eligible population. The top performers on the Scorecard — West Virginia, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia — all surpassed FRAC’s goal of reaching 70-low-income children with breakfast for every 100 who ate lunch. Nationally, on an average school day, 54.3 low-income children participated in the School Breakfast Program for every 100 participating in the National School Lunch Program, up from 53.2 the previous year. By contrast, Utah and New Hampshire each served breakfast to fewer than 40 free or reduced-price eligible students for every 100 participating in school lunch – far below the national average and FRAC’s goal.
A companion report to the Scorecard, “School Breakfast: Making it Work in Large School Districts” (pdf), also released today by FRAC, looks at trends and best practices for reaching more low-income children in the nation’s largest school districts.
Of the 73 large, mostly urban school districts surveyed for the Large School District report, 23 — more than double from the previous year’s report — achieved FRAC’s 70 to 100 benchmark. A number of the top-performing school districts — San Antonio Independent School District, Cincinnati Public Schools, and Detroit Public Schools, among others — serve a particularly high proportion of economically disadvantaged students.
The progress made by this year’s top performers in both reports demonstrates the power of linking alternative breakfast service models, such as breakfast in the classroom, “grab and go,” and second chance breakfast, with offering breakfast free to all students. These strategies combined overcome the common barriers to participation in the program, including financial constraints, inconvenience, and social stigma. Every surveyed district in the Large School District report, with the exception of one, reported operating a breakfast after the bell program in all or some schools, offering free meals to all students in some or all schools, or implementing both strategies in school year 2014–2015.
The Community Eligibility Provision, which rolled out nationally in the 2014-2015 school year, is proving to be another effective strategy for driving growth in school breakfast participation, as it allows school meals to be served free of charge to all students at high-poverty schools, while reducing administrative paperwork and stigma. By spring of 2015, there were more than 14,000 high-poverty schools, serving 6.8 million children, offering breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students. For the 2015–2016 school year, the total increased to more than 17,000 schools and 8 million children.
In light of the burgeoning body of research supporting the link between school breakfast and academic success, education stakeholders are making concerted efforts to improve the reach of the School Breakfast Program.
“We know what works, and more children are eating breakfast as a result,” added Weill. “Yet, our data show that there are still too many students, states, and school districts missing out on the benefits of school breakfast.”
States and school districts that are not maximizing school breakfast participation not only miss out on the academic benefits of better attendance and academic performance, but also lose significant potential economic activity that comes with millions of dollars’ worth of additional federal resources coming into the state and local communities. The Scorecard itemizes how many states left a significant amount of money on the table by not reaching more children that were eligible. Large states with average-to-low participation rates such as 24th-ranked California, 33rd-ranked Florida, and 39th-ranked New York, have the most to gain by meeting FRAC’s goal. These states would have brought in an additional $107.9 million, $74.5 million, and $76.5 million, respectively, if they had met the 70 to 100 goal.
The Large School District report also reviews untapped federal dollars, by district, that could have been used to build stronger nutrition programs and improve the nutritional quality and appeal of their school meals. Ten of the school districts that were surveyed, together, would have received additional funding in excess of $100 million if they were to meet FRAC’s 70:100 benchmark.
Weill says FRAC and its network of anti-hunger advocates across the country will continue to advocate for smart investments that support access to the School Breakfast Program.
Both school breakfast reports may be found at frac.org.
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The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) is the leading national nonprofit organization working to improve public policies and public-private partnerships to eradicate hunger and undernutrition in the United States.