By Jeanie Donovan
Two reports released today by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) show that Texas schools continue to serve a relatively high percentage of eligible students with the federal School Breakfast Program (SBP). Compared with all 50 states, Texas ranked 7th overall for the number of children reached by the SBP. On the other hand, the FRAC data also show that 2.5 million low-income Texas students ate a free or reduced-price school lunch every day while only 1.5 million ate breakfast. This means that each school day, one million of Texas’ poorest children missed out on a nutritious start to their school day. A Universal Breakfast Bill (HB 296), filed by Representative Eddie Rodriquez, would help to close that gap by requiring all schools in which 80 percent or more students qualify for free or reduced-price meals provide breakfast free to all students.
The first report, School Breakfast Scorecard 2011, shows that for every 100 low-income Texas students who received lunch during the 2011-2012 school year, nearly 60 also received a school breakfast. This represented a 3.8% increase from the previous school year in the number of eligible students reached by the School Breakfast Program. This year, FRAC set a benchmark goal for states to serve breakfast to at least 70 out of every 100 students who participated in the National School Lunch Program. If Texas were to meet that benchmark this school year, over 250,000 additional students would eat a free or reduced-price breakfast and Texas school districts would receive an additional $63.5 million in federal funding each year.
Seven Texas school districts were highlighted in FRAC’s companion report: School Breakfast: Making it work in Large School Districts. Participation data was collected from Austin, Dallas, Houston, Irving, Fort Worth, Cypress-Fairbanks, and San Antonio school districts along with 50 large school districts in other states. Of the Texas districts, only Houston and San Antonio ranked in the top 10; both surpassing the 70% benchmark set be FRAC. Austin, Dallas, and Fort Worth ISDs ranked in the bottom half of the 57 districts surveyed, with fewer than 50 of every 100 students receiving both a free/reduced-priced breakfast and lunch at school.
The three Texas districts with the highest SBP participation rates are also the districts that reported using both the Universal School Breakfast and Breakfast in the Classroom models. Houston, Irving, and San Antonio ISDs have adopted these innovative serving methods – meaning that free breakfast is offered to all students during the first period of the school day. These districts have seen dramatic increases in SBP participation, which has been shown to improve school attendance and student behavior, boost learning and test scores, and improve student health.
In light of this new data, Texas should pass the Universal Breakfast Bill and every school district in Texas should examine its breakfast program to look for ways to reach even more children with a healthy morning meal. Texas can – and it must – continue to move forward.