Eligible students not taking advantage of free breakfast at school

Mar 13, 2017

Numerous studies have shown that starting the day with breakfast has a positive influence for students. The federal government funds a program that allows income-eligible students to eat that first meal of the day at school, but less than one third of those who qualify for the program in New York State take advantage of it.

"There's absolutely a stigma, especially as kids get older, around accessing school meals," said Jessica Pino-Goodspeed, who authored a report for the statewide nonprofit Hunger Solutions New York.

It showed that in Buffalo Public Schools, only about 62 percent of eligible students participated in the school breakfast program in the last two academic years. In Niagara Falls City Schools, only 26 percent of eligible students participated.

Pino-Goodspeed says this is a lost opportunity, given the mounting evidence that eating breakfast leads to better classroom participation by students.

"But it's also had an impact on improving standardized test scores; also improving levels of concentration, alertness, attention, and memory. Schools have even seen lower instances of tardiness and fewer behavioral issues."

She said some school districts get better participation in the program by doing two things: allowing all students to eat the meals, not only those who meet income requirements; and by offering breakfast in the classroom, rather than requiring students to arrive at school early to eat breakfast in the cafeteria.

"Making sure that morning meal is more accessible rather than depending on kids getting to school early rather and choose breakfast time over socializing with friends, or getting homework done, or things like that."

The report said low breakfast participation in New York caused the state to forfeit more than $71 million dollars in federal reimbursements in the 2015-16 school year alone.