by Joseph H. Huber

SCHOOL BREAKFAST PROGRAMS: A Way to Reduce Special Education Costs?poster of a older man surrounded by young school children framed by the shape of an apple with text that reads, For Breakfast and Lunch in School!

"Millions of kids are hungry in America." So begins a recent report (March, 1991) conducted by the Food Research and Action Center FRAC).The study, entitled Community Childhood Hunger Identification Project, is the most rigorous and comprehensive examination of childhood hunger ever conducted in this country. It is also a disturbing one indicating that many low income households are unable to provide a nutritionally adequate diet. Key findings of the report:

Given that hunger is highly correlated with poverty and that 9.4 million children under 12 are classified as poor by the U.S. Census Bureau (NY Times, 3127191), epidemiologists and other public health experts maintain that the report findings are very plausible.

Recent studies have also negated the stereotypical view of hungry children in the U.S. For example, a study by the Children's Defense Fund, Child Poverty in America (June, 1991) found that:

At the National Education Association Annual Meeting on July 4, 1991, Keith Geiger, President of the Association, noted that "there are a lot of children who we cannot teach until we meet their other needs. You cannot take a child seven years old coming to school who did not have dinner the night before and did not have breakfast that morning and expect that child to do much more than sleep."

If hunger is made a school priority, many of the problems associated with poor nutrition could be eliminated. Food deprivation often leads to behavioral disorders and low achievement Children suffering from these conditions may be perceived as disabled and placed in special education programs, hence impacting special education budgets. School Breakfast and Lunch Programs could reduce the likelihood of this financial impact.

The School Breakfast and Lunch Programs are federal entitlements available to any child who attends school. However, according to FRAC, the School Breakfast Program (SBP) is vastly underutilized. During the 1988-89 school year, average daily participation in the breakfast program was 3.9 million students compared with 24.3 million students involved in school lunch programs. Most students do not participate in the SBP because it is not offered at their schools.

A variety of ideological and administrative obstacles prevent schools from offering breakfast such as:

Due to school administrators' unawareness of the benefits of SBP and their misconceptions about the costs and logistics of implementing such programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture passed legislation (Federal/Register, July 2, 1991) to amend the SBP. The new legislation requires state education agencies to provide information to school boards and public officials about the enhanced benefits and availability of breakfast programs.

In addition, five million dollars has been authorized by Public Law 101-147 for SBP Start-up GrantsforFY 1992. U.S. Department of Agriculture grants offer incentives to help schools with nonrecurring costs such as equipment, training of staff, and promotional activities. Federal regulations stipulate that an eligible school is one that does not conduct a SBP and agrees to operate the program for at least three years.

There are countless reasons to start a SBP, but there are also obstacles to overcome. If your school does not currently operate a breakfast program, can the impediments to participation be identified and a program developed? What effect would a SBP have on the number of children receiving special education services? Wouldn't both student and teacher populations significantly benefit from SBP implementation?