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6 things to know about school breakfast participation before COVID-19

The Food Research and Action Center’s latest Breakfast Score Card reveals the state of breakfast participation among low-income students prior to the pandemic.
Students grabbing fruit in school cafeteria
Photograph: Shutterstock

Over 12.6 million children received a free or reduced-price school breakfast on an average school day between September 2019 and February 2020, according to the Food Research and Action Center’s latest School Breakfast Score Card. The score card assesses how states’ breakfast participation was faring during the 2019-2020 school year until COVID-19 hit. Here are six takeaways from the report.  

1. Low-income breakfast participation was on the rise ahead of COVID 

States served almost 37 million more free or reduced-price breakfasts from September 2019 to February 2020. During that timeframe, low-income student breakfast participation increased by 1.5%, or almost 186,000 students, compared to the same period the previous year. 

2. Only 2 states have met FRAC’s low-income breakfast participation goal 

The FRAC would like each state to have at least 70 low-income students participating in school breakfast for every 100 who participate in school lunch. West Virginia has met that goal; for every 100 low-income students who participated in school lunch program in the state, 84.1 participated in school breakfast. 

Vermont also met FRAC’s threshold ratio. For every 100 low-income students who participated in the school lunch program there, 71.3 participated in school breakfast. 

3. Oklahoma had the biggest gains 

During the 2019-2020 school year, Oklahoma saw a 13.1% increase in breakfast participation among low-income students. Twenty-eight additional states also saw growth.

4. Legislation drove higher participation

States that passed legislation focused on implementing and supporting school breakfast programs had some of the highest low-income breakfast participation rates in the country during the 2019-2020 school year, the report found. Four of the top 10 states—Maine, New Mexico, Texas and West Virginia—and the District of Columbia have all put legislation in place that requires some or all schools to offer breakfast after the bell, or universal free breakfast in schools with high poverty levels. 

5. CEP also had an impact  

States where the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) was implemented broadly also had high breakfast participation among low-income students. The report reveals that during the 2019–2020 school year, the four states with the highest breakfast participation had at least 83% of their eligible schools participating in CEP.

6. States with lower participation are losing millions in funding 

States missed out on almost $495 million in federal funding during the 2019–2020 school year due to low breakfast participation among low-income students, the report reveals. 

Six states each missed $20 million in additional federal funding due to low participation, and the four most populous states—California, Florida, New York and Texas—together missed out on over $194 million in funds.

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