Major Factors Inhibit Expansion of the School Breakfast Program

CED-80-35: Published: Jun 16, 1980. Publicly Released: Jun 16, 1980.

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The school breakfast program has not grown as quickly as Congress anticipated. Expansion has been hampered by: local attitudes toward the program and perceptions of local needs and responsibilities; program costs that exceed maximum federal reimbursement; low participation, especially among teenagers; operating problems; and insufficient and/or misdirected promotion efforts. Legislation which was proposed requiring schools to provide breakfast programs if 50 percent of their students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals was rejected. Instead, Congress reaffirmed its position that programs should be made available in all schools where needed to provide adequate nutrition to students. Expansion of the program has been impeded by local opinions such as: the contention that a good breakfast is a family, not a school, responsibility; belief that the school's primary function, education, is weakened by the burden of the administration of such auxilliary functions; and the view held by many people that the program is primarily for children of low-income families and is not needed when a small proportion of such children are in a school. Low participation in the program raises questions about the need for the program, and may raise program costs. Present nutritional information systems are not adequate for deciding whether students are nutritionally needy. Financial losses seriously inhibit program growth as do various operational problems concerning bus and class schedules, food preparation and serving facilities, and supervision. The public information program for making the schools and public more aware of the breakfast program has been ineffective.

A federal mandate for school breakfast programs would be inappropriate. Although the School Breakfast Program is supposed to be targeted to the nutritionally needy, no data or criteria have been developed to determine which children would be affected. When operating costs are a barrier to growth of the program, the problem is not as readily solvable as some other operating problems. Participation in ongoing breakfast programs is low in most cases, even where sizeable numbers of students are from low-income families. The federal role should be one of ensuring that parents and school officials are made aware of the program, its goals, and the degree of support the federal government offers. It is important to ensure that the local community has a voice in the decision of whether to provide a breakfast program or not. Congress has emphasized the need for better public information about the program, but it is too early to tell if the agency's response will be effective.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should require that each school district, as part of its annual survey to determine which students qualify for free or reduced-price meals or through other effective means, determine whether parents are interested in establishing a school breakfast program. The results should be made public and given to the local school governing body to help it in deciding whether to start a breakfast program. Also, the Secretary, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, should require that meaningful criteria be established and information gathered on the nutritional status of school children to provide a sounder basis for administering school food programs.

    Agency Affected:


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