School breakfast: the societal benefit

New report shows Illinois ranks 42nd

Parachute Food - 2
By Bob Dolgan
Campaign Manager

The Illinois State Board of Education Annual Report states that 2,054,556 students were enrolled in Illinois public schools in 2014-2015. In our view, every one of those students deserves an opportunity for a better future. The playing field, though, is uneven for many children, whether due to their own family’s challenges or due to schools’ administrative and funding barriers. As a child advocacy campaign, we can’t control every variable. But we can work to access every resource available to low-income children. It’s our responsibility to give our children and our neighbors’ children a fair chance at success.

A nutritious meal at the start of the school day means that a child is more likely to be properly nourished and able to focus, absorb the lessons being presented and retain the knowledge needed to excel. It’s not an overstatement to say that serving school breakfast can be the first step to a brighter future long-term. The impacts of hunger on brain development in formative years are well documented. And some research connects school breakfast to higher scores on achievement tests. Children who miss meals regularly, especially breakfast, are more likely to be held back a grade, receive special education services and mental health counseling. If the core functional benefit of breakfast is to sate hunger pangs among already at-risk children, the higher purpose is dignity and respect: a quality meal is something that everyone deserves, three times every day. What message do we send by ignoring a program that was enacted by Senators and Representatives and endorsed by Presidents, for the very purpose of aiding low-income children?

The arguments against school breakfast are many, and often soporific. We’ve seen firsthand how skeptical attitudes toward school breakfast change with positive impacts on attendance, tardiness and school wellness. As one teacher told us, “Our day actually gets started quicker than it used to, and calmer.” The Rise and Shine Illinois campaign exists to make setting up a breakfast program easy: we can develop solutions for any school and have the resources to provide schools grant funding for breakfast infrastructure. There are few reasons not to serve breakfast at school.

Today we release breakfast data showing that Illinois ranks 42nd in the nation in serving school breakfast. While average daily participation has increased slightly, the balkanized structure of our 859 school districts makes direct, local advocacy for breakfast district-by-district expensive and time-consuming. Therefore, this spring we will introduce legislation in Springfield that requires schools to serve fully federally funded breakfasts. We will follow up until every eligible child receives a meal at the start of the school day. Providing breakfast is a small step among many needed to enhance our education system, but by valuing every child and nurturing every child individually we have a chance to make progress. And that’s a benefit for all of society.

View the 2015 Rise and Shine Illinois Breakfast Report
View 2014-2015 breakfast data for the top 100 school districts in Illinois
Press release: School Breakfast Program reaching more children in Illinois, yet opportunities remain 2.16.16