It's common sense that kids who start classes when they are reasonably fed are better able to learn.
But despite the resources available to provide breakfasts in schools, not enough is being done — either in central San Joaquin Valley schools or in other counties — to provide proper morning meals for the students who need them most.
According to California Food Policy Advocates, only 36% of low-income students in Fresno County schools participated in their school's breakfast program in the 2010-11 academic year.
The shame of it is, this low participation rate meant that Fresno County schools left nearly $14 million in untapped federal meal reimbursements on the table.
Involvement was similar for Kings (39%), Madera (31%) and Tulare (35%) counties. Schools in those three counties combined for about $11.5 million in untapped breakfast reimbursements.
While school lunch programs post high participation rates across the state — often serving more than 70% of low-income students — breakfast programs have remained far behind.
California schools serving low-income populations need to raise the bar on boosting breakfast participation rates. If schools take full advantage of federal programs and reimbursements for meal programs, this is a goal well within reach.
Currently, schools can be reimbursed by the federal government if their breakfast program serves 60 free or reduced-priced breakfasts per 100 lunches of the same designation.
In districts with a majority of children already eligible for free or reduced-priced meals, this benchmark can be surpassed simply by offering all students free breakfast and lunch.
Under Provision 2 of the National School Lunch Act, schools can offer all students free breakfast and lunch while significantly reducing administrative overhead that comes with things like the application process and verification of student eligibility for reduced-price and free meals.
Provision 2 asks that schools cover the difference between the federal reimbursement they receive and the cost of serving meals at no charge to their students. In districts where most children already are covered by federal reimbursements, the cost to schools is minimal.
According to the Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit advocacy group that focuses on hunger and nutrition, California schools lost $100.4 million in federal funding in the 2009-10 academic year because they did not meet the federal threshold for breakfast participation.
A good breakfast won't solve all the challenges of educating students from disadvantaged backgrounds, but it's an essential first step in helping these young people start the day with the energy and focus needed to learn.
For schools with large low-income populations, Provision 2 offers a feasible way to help more students start the day with a healthy, nutritious meal.
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