This guest post was written by Jessica Pino-Goodspeed, Child Nutrition Programs Specialist, Hunger Solutions New York.
It’s National School Breakfast week, and each year, Hunger Solutions New York celebrates the occasion with the release of its statewide report on school breakfast participation. Our latest report, School Breakfast: Reducing Child Hunger, Bolstering Student Success, reveals that the two New York State school districts in AASA’s Alternative School Breakfast Initiative, Hempstead Union Free School District (UFSD) and Newburgh Enlarged City School District, led the state in reaching low- income students with breakfast during the 2015-2016 school year.
One in five New York State children face hunger every day. Children who arrive at school hungry have their mind on their empty stomach rather than on school work. More than 60 percent of New York State public school students live in households with income below or near the poverty level. Those families depend on free and reduced-price school meals to stretch limited monthly grocery budgets.
School breakfast provides students with a vital nutritional and educational support, during a crucial period of growth, development and learning, but our report shows the School Breakfast Program is greatly underutilized in New York State. While statewide school breakfast participation has increased since the 2014-2015 school year, growth in the number of students qualified to receive free or reduced-price breakfast has offset participation growth. In the 2015-2016 school year, fewer than one in three students who qualified to eat free or reduced-price breakfast participated in the School Breakfast Program.
New York State is among the lowest-performing states in reaching low-income National School Lunch Program participants with the School Breakfast Program. The state was ranked 42nd in the Food Research and Action Center’s School Breakfast Scorecard for the 2015-2016 school year.
With statewide breakfast participation lagging, Hempstead UFSD and Newburgh Enlarged City School District are examples for school breakfast best practices. Both districts have implement alternative school breakfast service models like breakfast in the classroom, grab and go, and second chance options, and provide free breakfast to all students, to optimize breakfast access. Together, Newburgh and Hempstead accounted for a quarter of the statewide growth in School Breakfast Program participation during the 2015-2016 school year, with increases of 67% and 133%, respectively.
When students do not eat school breakfast, not only do they miss out on learning and health benefits, but also a significant amount of federal funding is left on the table. In the 2015-2016 school year, only 45.88% of free and reduced-price lunch participants also ate school breakfast. This resulted in the forfeiture of more than $71 million in federal reimbursements in that school year alone.
Ensuring New York State’s most vulnerable students have access to school breakfast requires simultaneous efforts at federal, state, and local levels. It is important to recognize that school breakfast can help to remove hunger as an obstacle to learning. When properly leveraged, the School Breakfast Program can be a fundamental building block for student health and academic success. To this end, schools, federal and state agencies, and elected officials should prioritize systemic changes to improve school breakfast participation. The report released today outlines specific methods to achieve that goal.
Hunger Solutions New York works to ensure every public school student has access to school breakfast. Our organization provides school districts with tools, resources and one-on-one support to help maximize the SBP’s reach and to help ensure every student starts the school day free from hunger, properly nourished and prepared for a day of learning. Learn more at SchoolMealsHubNY.org.