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1 million California children who qualify for free breakfast at school go without


More than 1 million low-income California children who receive for free or reduced-price school lunches do not get breakfast at school even though they would qualify, and about a fifth of the schools in the state do not even offer breakfast, according to two reports from the Food Research and Action Center.

California ranked 33rd in low-income-student participation in the School Breakfast Program for 2008-09, the same ranking it received a year earlier. In terms of the number of schools that offer breakfast, California’s ranking fell from 35th to 40th, the Washington-based group said.

In the 2008-09 school year, 8,756 schools that took part in the National School Lunch Program also offered breakfast, compared with 8,922 schools the previous year. Nationally, fewer than half of the eligible children receive breakfast at school, according to the reports released Monday.

In 2008-09, 8.8 million children took part in the breakfast program on an average day; the lunch program served 18.9 million children.

“The program is seriously underutilized,” center president James Weill said Monday.

Children have consistently increased their participation since the early 1990s, but “it’s not across the board, and it’s not fast enough,” Weill said.

“We really think of the School Breakfast Program as a modest miracle of good public policy,” he said.

The program, which began as a pilot project in 1966 and became permanent in 1975, helps alleviate hunger, improves student achievement and reduces levels of absenteeism, the group said. One way to improve participation is to “fit the program to the actual lives of children in schools," Weill said.

"When you serve breakfast only in the cafeteria, 30 to 40 to 50 minutes before school starts, too many kids don’t get there on their school bus or public transportation or they understandably want” to be with their friends rather than in the cafeteria, he said.

Solutions include serving breakfast in class and providing carts from which students can grab a bagged or boxed meal. About 1 million low-income California children took advantage of the breakfast program in 2008-09, compared with 2.4 million for the lunch program, according to the center’s research.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, all schools serve breakfast, and all but 250 of the 711 schools offer a “second-chance” breakfast, which is served during a break, said Laura Benavidez, deputy director in charge of operations for the district’s food services.

The portion of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches is on the rise in this difficult economy, from about 76% a few years ago to 80% to 82% this year, Benavidez said.

In one report, the research group looked at 25 urban school districts. The San Diego Unified School District increased the share of low-income students participating in school breakfast and lunch in 2008-09 to 51.2% from 38.4% the previous year.

L.A. Unified’s gain was 0.9 percentage points, while the Oakland Unified School District’s participation fell by 1.5 percentage points.

In addition to nutrition and hunger issues, the lack of participation in the breakfast program represented a lost opportunity to bring in more federal dollars — because the federal government reimburses the state for meals eaten under the programs, advocates said.

For California, if 60 of every 100 children who ate free or reduced-price lunch also had breakfast, the state would receive nearly $98 million more in federal reimbursements, the food research center said.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo: L.A. Times file

Comments () | Archives (44)

Schools shouldnt even be in the feeding kids free breakfast business. What ever happened to parents?!?!? BTW- what happened to the front page article on "latino kids have it tough". I guess no one cared cause it vanished pretty quickly. And yes, no one does care. A lot of people have it tough. Deal with it! Parents should feed their kids at home, or give them money to buy breakfast. The tax payers shouldnt be paying for millions of kids to eat breakfast.How many families say they cant afford to feed their kids greakfast, but can afford the cable bill, multiple cars, and other stuff they dont need?

who cares?

Lost federal dollars because a kid didn't have breakfast before he got to school. The state should convince the Feds to allow vending machine purchases to count towards the federal match because kids would rather have a snack from a vending maching instead of the cafeteria. This would also eliminate all the waste from uneaten hot breakfast.

Not all kids nor their parents are early risers and if they're like me, they're always running late.

free? I don't think so. We need to stop wasting our money on free and reduced lunches and breakfast. The kids throw most of it away.

While I don't blame the children...I am FED UP with providing FREE education, FOOD, Health care for children of foreign nationals...ESPECIALLY that parasite next door MEXICO!!!!!!!!!!

We have enough of starving American children who are suffering!!!!!!!

I Feel for these kids being a parent of two kids, but the parents of these children should be the one feeding their own children, not the tax payers.

Seriously? Good, I'm glad. They're probably all overweight anyway.

I totally agree that we should expand the program. The government should raise the kids for the low income family so that the welfare money the parents receive can be dedicated on drugs and drinks for the parent.

Are people milking the system by under reporting their income? That's an awful lot of children in that category but you just don't see the wide spread poverty anywhere.

I imagine the average family has two issues to contend with in getting eligible children into the cafeteria for breakfast. 1) The elimination of all yard supervision, as we knew it as kids. So related to that, 2) The window of time for "getting into breakfast" is particularly specific in my city's district. I agree with Mr. Weill's statement that part of the fix is to “fit the program to the actual lives of children in schools," but we also need to realize the realities of the school site's own limitations.

Just from these points of consideration, I figure most School Boards probably shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to maximizing the potential for Federal funding.

The true life-saver to families barely getting by in the last couple of years, I would say, is the summer food program. If you couldn't afford it during the school year, you may have an even greater pinch during the summer months. [Think of the families whose breadwinner also works only that school year schedule].

Did it occur to any of these people that perhaps the children were getting breakfast at home, even if they do qualify for the program? Perhaps we should add dinner, that way the parents can abdicate more responsibility for their children.

There's probably a Federal law that supersedes State laws that are in conflict local city laws that make it illegal to offer free food. Hopefully the bureaucrats will have it figured out before anyone starves to death.

Growing up I always assumed it was the parents responsibility to feed their children. When I went off it school my single mother who was making minimum wage as a waitress made sure that my brother and I ate before we left for school. When has the parents responsibilities change? Will schools (tax payers) soon be responsible to cloth and provide beds for school children. Most of these children that qualify for the breakfast clubs parents are already getting welfare and food stamps. Yes, children need to be feed and properely prpared for school, but we have to stop burdening the school system and tax payers for the lack of responsibility of many parents. We have to stop putting expensive bandades on our societies moral wounds.

How many are illegals? How many are kids of illegals? How many American kids, or legal residents kids do you think you could feed if you got rid of the illegals?

It disgusts me to think that an American child would go hungry, so an illegal or an illegal alien's child can eat.

I do not think it is the responsibility of the State to provide meals to children at school. The fact that so many eligible kids do not participate means that many parents (and kids) agree. Can this program. We don't have money for it anyway.

It isn't the job of the schools to feed children; that is a job for their parents. With our legislature determined to find deserving "victims" on whom to lavish goodies, no one should wonder that California is insolvent.

When the state is looking to cut expenses, why isn't this kind of unnecessary, wasteful giveaway ever on the block? Why is it always some proper function of government that gets cut, rather than an improper handout like this? More to the point, why do the hand-wringing do-gooders always manage to get programs like this started in the first place?

"Free" food? It' s not free, the taxpayers pay for it. And you're decrying that some who "qualify" did not take it? Is it any wonder why this State is broke with little chance as things now stand of fixing problems? Would you care to look into and report on the sociological makeup of the takers / qualifiers for this "free" food? Do you suppose that a huge percentage are the kids of parents in this country illegally? There's a story here and it isn't that not enough people took the so-called free stuff. And it's not just food.....extrapolate this out to medical services and other thingsfor which that the paying citizens foot the bill.

Couple of points:

Firstly, kids may not want to participate, even if they "qualify". I remember a brief period of time when I was a child, (many, many moons ago). Right after my father passed, and it was just my mother raising my little sister and I, we "qualified" for free lunches. I remember quite clearly that I would rather have gone hungry than to live with the embarrassment and the social stigma of being a "welfare" case. So that's exactly what I did. I went hungry. When my mother found out that the method by which my sister and I were getting "free lunches" was through the use of little green "coupons" we were to hand over to the cashier in the cafeteria, she was absolutely mortified. She went out and got a second job that week, so that "her kids" wouldn't ever have to use those disgusting little green "I'm a poor kid" coupons again.

Secondly: Our State is flat busted, broke. Is it so surprising that we don't have enough money in the Public School system to pay for breakfast and lunch? Not to sound cold-hearted, but we DO have welfare programs, along with Food Stamps and WIC vouchers, to cover this very real, and very serious, problem. Our schools are for educating our children, not for feeding them. Again, I don't mean to sound cruel, but sometimes we have to face our limitations and DEMAND that others handle their own responsibilities.

Thirdly: Serving a free breakfast "in class"? Because children would rather be spending their time with their friends than eating a nutritious breakfast? Gonna come right out and say it: TOO FREAKIN' BAD, kiddo. That's the problem with kid's today, and with society in general. TOO CONCERNED with what they "want" and not concerned enough with what they're responsible for, and what's good for them. To be honest, I would rather sit around in my jammies all day, drinking coffee and reading for pleasure. But SOMEONE has got to pay the bills. These kids need to be taught to be less self-indulgent and more resonsible. YES, even at this "young age". It is, after all, during their formative years that they LEARN and ABSORB values such as responsibility, accountability, respect, AND self-repect and self-reliance. We've spoiled them. An entire generation of them. Time to nip this disastrous trend in the bud, because our children have become a bunch of whining, entitled, self-indulgent, self-centered, DEPENDENT brats, who are completely incapable of coping in the REAL world. They've become a burden on society, rather than an asset to it.

Here's a plan. How about poor people stop having babies. The cycle has to stop somewhere. Bring back eugenics! Can't afford breakfast? No health insurance? Baby daddy in prison? Mandatory abortions and sterilization! At a tenth of the cost to feeding, housing, educating and finally prison.

Have you seen these kids and their mom's? They're so obese they have trouble walking! Maybe a little less free chow is in order. These are the same "poor kids" who have plenty of cash to stuff themselves at Micky D's after school. Has this state gone absolutely insane?

If you can't afford to feed them, you don't have them. Oh that's right we are talking about low income, which usually translates to illegals, not like Americans aren't hurting now and should be the first to have our kids fed, but we are so busy in other countries that we can't take care of our own first.

You should see how much food goes into the trash and how many calories are in a breakfast. Coffee cake is a regular item and pancakes with syrup. Eat in the classroom? Who gets to clean that mess up? Parents need to feed their own kids and the government should stay out of it.

The schools should not be responsible for feeding children, this is the parents job.

These people are getting assistance from the state by way of food stamps and other assistance (WIC).

What happened to parents being responsible for their children?

Serving breakfast in class? OMG!!! How about creating another branch of the LAUSD to take the breakfast to the kid's house, wake the kid up, brush the kid's teeth...

Oh, wait - a better idea: cut everything from public school that is not reading, writing and math. This plan includes ending the program that provides food paid by a third party(not free).

And probably about that same amount are getting free breakfasts that do not qualify as there is no accountability to determine who should and should not get a free breakfast.

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