Federal Breakfast Program Feeds Record Numbers
More schools than ever participated in the federal school breakfast program last year, but some 2 million children at risk for hunger are not being reached, a report says.
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"The School Breakfast Scorecard: 2000," an annual report released by the Washington-based Food Research and Action Center, found that more than 71,000 schools offered the subsidized breakfasts and that the average number of poor children served daily rose to 6.3 million in 2000, almost double the 3.4 million served in 1990.
The increase is due to a combination of factors, said Lynn Parker, FRAC's director of child-nutrition programs and a co-author of the report.
To begin with, Ms. Parker said, "state education agencies have been much more supportive in helping to expand the program." At the same time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the federal government's school nutrition programs, has eased the burden on states by allowing students whose families receive food stamps to be certified for free school meals without having to file additional applications for meals.
Special provisions also allow schools to provide free meals to all students. That has reduced paperwork and softened the stigma that discourages some students from participating in the free or reduced-price meals program, according to FRAC.
Lorita Myles, the director of child-nutrition services in the Ohio Department of Education, has seen a remarkable increase in student participation in the breakfast program since her state first piloted a universal free-meals program in several districts.
Starting that program, Ms. Myles said, "has been tremendously positive for children."
Still, across the nation, too many poor children are not benefiting from the federal breakfast program, FRAC says.
Researchers at the nonprofit organization estimate that an additional 2 million needy children could be reached. The researchers say that more than $300 million in federal aid is available to provide school breakfasts for those children.
The breakfast program has an annual budget of about $1.35 billion.
One reason students are not receiving available food is that some schools still don't offer the breakfast program, Ms. Parker said. "Local school districts often don't make an effort or don't know how to let their local community know that these programs are available," she said.
In addition to its national findings, FRAC ranked the states on how well they delivered school breakfast programs.
The top three performers were Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia. In those states, about 55 percent of the students who get federally subsidized lunches also receive school breakfasts.
The three lowest- performing states were Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Alaska. About 25 percent of students who receive school lunches in those states also get school breakfasts.
Congress established the breakfast program in 1966 as a temporary measure to help schools provide nutritious morning meals to children. The program received permanent authorization in 1975.
Vol. 20, Issue 12, Page 5