Washington State has a breakfast problem. More specifically, Washington State has a problem when it comes to ensuring low-income children have access to breakfast year-around. In February, the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) released their annual School Breakfast Scorecard, which measures how many low-income students participate in the federally funded School Breakfast Program. Nationally, school breakfast participation grew, with 44 states increasing participation in their free and reduced-priced school breakfast. Washington State was not one of these states. In fact, we dropped from the already low 39th in the nation for school breakfast participation to 45th. That means, only five other states are worse at making sure low-income children have access to breakfast than Washington—and that’s during the school year.
The news gets worse when we look at access to breakfast during the summer months, when children are not in school. In September, FRAC released their first ever report, Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Breakfast Status Report, which measures national summer breakfast participation. The picture isn’t pretty overall, serving breakfast to just over half the number of children that participate in summer lunch nationwide. Once again, Washington comes in almost dead last, ranking 49th in the nation for summer breakfast participation. Let that sink in—49th in the nation. Washington State has a serious breakfast problem.
As many know, breakfast has long been considered the most important meal of the day. When children are able to get the nutritious food they need every morning, they are better equipped to learn and grow. Studies have proven that when students have regular access to breakfast, health and academic achievement improve. During the school year, when kids eat breakfast, test scores rise, attendance rates climb, and discipline problems drop.
We have a lot of work to do to ensure children, one of the most vulnerable populations in our state, are fed a healthy and nutritious breakfast year-around. We can start by making sure they have access to one during the school year. Breakfast After the Bell is a simple solution to Washington’s big breakfast problem. Breakfast After the Bell takes a program that already exists—school breakfast—and makes it more efficient and effective. Serving breakfast in the cafeteria before the school day begins presents many obstacles for kids and families. Bus and carpool schedules, social stigma, and peer pressure are barriers that prevent kids from eating breakfast. Moving breakfast after the bell removes these barriers and increases participation.
Many of the top performing states in the nation have adopted Breakfast After the Bell legislation and Washington can too. We hope you will join us during the 2017 legislative session to advocate for Breakfast After the Bell. When kids have access to the healthy foods they need each day, they feel better, learn more, and grow up stronger. And a stronger generation of kids means a stronger Washington.