Less than 44 percent of the low-income students in Washington who would qualify for a school breakfast program have access to one, and a new report says the state ranks 39th in the nation for its lack of progress in raising that number because offering breakfast at school is voluntary.
Compared to other states, Washington isn’t making much progress in feeding lower-income children who come to school hungry, according to a new statewide report from the group Washington Appleseed.
It says in schools where a quick, healthy breakfast is served, there are fewer discipline problems, students miss 40 percent fewer school days, and they do a little better meeting basic reading standards than in schools where breakfast participation is low.
But Katie Mosehauer, executive director of Washington Appleseed, says breakfast programs reach fewer than half of the Washington students who are eligible.
“Since about 2008-2009, we’ve reached the same percentage of low-income kids with breakfast,” she explains. “Turns out that the rest of the country is doing way better, year over year. So really, we can make strides pretty quickly by following the example of a lot of other states.”
Mosehauer’s group is recommending a state law that requires in high-need schools, where 70 percent or more of the students qualify for subsidized meal programs, breakfast be offered during morning class time.
Breakfast programs currently are voluntary in Washington schools, and she says some teachers and administrators think they’re too much hassle.
The research indicates more children participate when food is offered to all students, and if they don’t have to show up early and go to the cafeteria to get it.
Mount View Elementary in Seattle started its Breakfast after the Bell program in October. Principal Felecia Wells says starting the day with a morning meal adds to the sense of community in the classroom.
“Knowing that kids are well fed outweighs any problem that might come up with respect to figuring out how to strategically work everything so that the morning starts out smoothly,” she stresses. “We can figure that out, that’s an adult issue. Getting the food to the kids is what’s most important.”
The report says one in four Washington children deals with hunger, but the state is ranked 39th in the nation for reaching that target population with breakfast at school.