February 10, 2021

Before school districts across the country were forced to close their doors in the spring due to COVID-19, the School Breakfast Program was providing much-needed nutrition to just over 12.6 million low-income children on an average school day. from September through February of the 2019–2020 school year, according to FRAC’s annual School Breakfast Scorecard, released yesterday.

The report analyzes three measures of student participation:

  1. the number of low-income students participating;
  2. the total number of all students participating; and 
  3. the number of low-income students participating in school breakfast, compared to their participation in school lunch, nationally and in each state.


Here are some of the key findings:

  • 12.6 million children received a free or reduced-price school breakfast on an average school day in the 2019–2020 school year from September through February. Participation increased by 1.5 percent, or nearly 186,000 students when compared to the same time period the previous year;
  • The School Breakfast Program served 58.4 low-income students for every 100 who participated in the National School Lunch Program, an increase from 57.3 to 100 in the previous school year. 
  • If all states met FRAC’s benchmark of reaching 70 low-income children with school breakfast for every 100 participating in school lunch, an additional 2.5 million low-income children would have started the day with a healthy breakfast at school. States and school districts would have been able to use an additional $495 million in federal funding to support school food services.

This abbreviated look at the reach of the School Breakfast Program during the 2019–2020 school year suggests that participation would have increased through the full school year if the program had not been stymied by COVID-19. However, participation in school breakfast continued to lag behind school lunch as it has in previous school years.

There are proven strategies for expanding the reach of school breakfast, many of which were in motion before the pandemic. More states need to follow the path of the top performers and implement the expansion strategies that worked pre-pandemic, such as offering breakfast (and lunch) at no charge to all students, enacting state breakfast legislation as a vehicle for change, and expanding breakfast after the bell programs. 

With most schools offering breakfast at no charge to all students this school year, and with schools facing significant budget cuts, federal administrative and legislative actions are needed to support school breakfast to ensure that all children continue to have access to a nutritious breakfast, even after the pandemic is over, so that every child can start each school day ready to learn.

Teachers and other school staff recognize the importance of school breakfast to children’s health and learning. 

“As soon as schools began to close, food service workers and school staff, represented by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), went right to work and didn’t miss a beat to find ways to feed students their school meals, even in this pandemic as school buildings were closed. Our members remain on the frontlines of the fight against hunger in our schools and communities. We see the effects of hunger play out in real time — whether we are in a classroom or on a screen. And we know all the benefits of breakfast to start the morning for our pre-K–12 students; breakfast helps ensure their bodies and minds are ready to learn, play, and focus. FRAC’s breakfast scorecard shows us that progress has been made in closing the gap of students receiving breakfast versus lunch, but there is still so much work to do. As our schools continue to meet again in person, we look forward to working with FRAC and other hunger advocates to close this gap and ensure all of our students have access to a healthy breakfast, lunch and snack each day. Randi Weingarten, president, AFT

When the dust settles from COVID-19 and students head back to the classroom, school breakfast will play an even more important role in helping to combat childhood hunger and ensure that students have the nutrition they need to learn. Moving forward, collaboration among the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state child nutrition agencies, policymakers, educators, and anti-hunger advocates will be necessary to ensure all students can start the day with a healthy school breakfast this school year and beyond.