More Low-Income Children Starting the Day with School Breakfast, Finds FRAC Report

Successful Federal and State Programs Helping Schools Make Breakfast More Accessible

Contact: Jennifer Adach, 202.986.2200 x3018

Read the reports: School Breakfast Scorecard (pdf) and School Breakfast: Making It Work in Large School Districts (pdf).

Washington, D.C. – January 22, 2014 – More low-income children are starting the day with a healthy morning meal as participation in the School Breakfast Program continued its upswing during the 2012-2013 school year. The Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) annual School Breakfast Scorecard found that more than 10.8 million children received a free or reduced-price breakfast on the average school day during the 2012-2013 school year, an increase of nearly 311,000 children from the previous year.

FRAC also 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. Nationally, the number of low-income children participating in school breakfast for every 100 participating in school lunch was 51.9, an increase from 50.4:100 during the previous school year. The 2011-2012 school year had marked the first year – an important milestone – that more than half of low-income children who ate school lunch also ate school breakfast.

This ongoing success was due to more states and school districts adopting proven strategies to increase participation. Offering breakfast free of charge to all children, especially in low-income schools, as well as moving breakfast out of the cafeteria and into the classroom after the bell, continued to yield higher participation rates. Also playing a strong role in driving participation was the launch in seven states of Community Eligibility, a new federal provision that allows high-poverty schools to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students without the need for individual applications.

FRAC found that in participating Community Eligibility states – D.C., Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, Ohio and West Virginia – average daily breakfast participation among low-income children increased by five percent, compared to 2.5 percent in all other states. This provision will be available in all states during the 2014 – 2015 school year, potentially giving a major boost to breakfast participation in thousands of low-income schools.

“FRAC’s research is showing that there are proven strategies, like breakfast in the classroom and Community Eligibility, which are leading to more children starting the day with breakfast and getting the fuel they need to succeed,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “States should start getting ready to roll out Community Eligibility so they can make this provision work for high poverty schools and ensure more children benefit from healthy school meals.”

Participation among states ranged from a high of 70 low-income children in breakfast for every 100 in lunch in Washington, D.C. and New Mexico and 67 per 100 in West Virginia to a low of 34 per 100 in Utah and 37:100 in New Hampshire. Five additional states – Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont – reached more than 60 per 100.

A separate report by FRAC, School Breakfast: Making it Work in Large School Districts, echoed many of these findings on smart policy, but specifically in the urban setting. Comparing school breakfast participation and policies in 63 large, mostly urban school districts across the country, the report found that the school districts with the highest participation all had large-scale programs that allowed students to eat breakfast in their classrooms at the beginning of the school day. The top 12 school districts all offered breakfast free to all or many students throughout their district, and all had breakfast in the classroom programs in at least one-third of their schools.

Among the surveyed school districts, participation ranged from a high of 92 low-income students in breakfast per 100 in lunch in Boise Public Schools to a low of 35 per 100 in New York City Public Schools.

Low participation means missed meals for hungry children and missed dollars for states and school districts. If all states had increased participation so they reached 70 low-income children with breakfast for every 100 that also ate lunch, FRAC estimates that an additional 3.8 million children would have been added to the breakfast program and states would have received more than $964 million in added child nutrition funding in 2012-2013.

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About the Reports: The School Breakfast Scorecard contains national and state data for breakfast participation. School Breakfast: Making it Work in Large School Districts surveys 63 large urban school districts across the country on school breakfast participation rates and policies during the school year. Both reports are available at www.frac.org.