School breakfast program participation shows slight increase

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AUSTIN—A national report shows a slight increase in participation in school breakfast programs last year, with 61 low-income Texas children eating school breakfast for every 100 who received subsidized school lunch, compared to 60 the previous school year.

Texas ranked No. 8 nationally in terms of student participation. However, the report estimated the state is missing out on an additional $59 million in federal aid that would go to Texas schools each year if the program reached 70 out of every 100 qualified students.

thi logo400An average of 1.52 million low-income students in Texas ate a free or reduced-price breakfast each school day in 2012-2013, according to the School Breakfast Scorecard, released annually by the Food Research and Action Center. Nationally, 10.8 million children participated on an average day—an increase of about 311,000 from the previous school year.

Barriers and stigma

“Texas has done a good job making this program available, but students clearly still face barriers and stigma in order to eat breakfast before the first bell,” said Celia Cole, CEO of the Texas Food Bank Network.

“Universal in-class breakfast strategies have the potential to boost participation in the existing program, significantly improving student learning and health at no cost to the state.”

Texas mandates nearly all public schools offer the federally funded breakfast program, and the state legislature passed a law last year that aims to boost participation by asking high-need schools to make breakfast available to all students without cost.

“Anything we can do to boost the academic performance of children from low-income families is going to have a significant pay-off for the state,” Cole said.

Jeremy Everett, director of the Texas Hunger Initiative, noted he was excited to see an increase—“though slight”—in school breakfast participation.

“Though there is much work to be done in this space, I’m encouraged by the way the anti-hunger community and school administrations have come together to see this improvement thus far,” he said.

Texas Hunger Initiative

The Texas Hunger Initiative—a statewide anti-hunger organization developed within the Baylor University School of Social Work in cooperation with Texas Baptists’ Christian Life Commission—“remains committed to helping more children from food-insecure families receive the daily fuel they need for success in the classroom and beyond,” Everett added.

“Our field offices will continue to work closely with school districts across the state in efforts to identify effective models, such as Breakfast in the Classroom, and, ultimately, increase access to breakfast for all Texas children,” he said.

Ferrell Foster, director of ethics and justice for the Christian Life Commission, emphasized the importance of providing nutrition to children from low-income households.

“A nutritious breakfast is essential to the lives of all children, and it is especially important to the development of children living in economically stressed situations,” he said. “The CLC has worked with others to improve this situation in Texas, but it is critical that we continue to work locally and statewide go help children get the food they need.”

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