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Survey Findings

Enrollment and Student Eligibility Rates

The 29 districts that participated in this study ranged in size from 26,000 students to more than 1 million students during the 2009–2010 school year. Table A in the Appendix lists the participating districts’ reported enrollment, from largest to smallest, along with the trend over the past year of increasing or decreasing enrollment. Enrollment trends within school districts can impact participation, but even districts with declining enrollment are achieving increases in breakfast participation. Also, due to the recession, most districts had increased numbers of students qualifying for free and reduced-price meals, even those with falling overall enrollment.

The districts responding to this survey reported the percent of their student enrollment determined to be eligible for free and reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program. These eligibility figures provide a snapshot of the relative level of poverty and nutritional need. Table B in the Appendix shows the reported percentage of students determined to be eligible for free and reduced-price meals, as well as a total combined percentage of both free and reduced-price eligible students. The percentages varied from a low of 43.6 percent combined free and reduced-price eligible in Seattle, Washington to a high of 86.4 percent in Dallas, Texas.

Breakfast Participation

For this report, FRAC calculated the number of low-income students – i.e. those eligible for free or reduced-price school meals – eating breakfast each day (average daily participation, or ADP) in each city by dividing the number of breakfasts served over the course of the school year by the number of days on which breakfast was served, as reported in the survey by each district. Table C in the Appendix provides data for each district on the average daily number of low-income children participating in free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch in each district, for both the 2009-2010 school year and the 2008-2009 school year. Five districts -- Baltimore, Columbus, Denver Pittsburgh and Oakland -- had fewer daily low-income breakfast participants than in the previous year. All of these districts, with the exception of Columbus, served fewer low-income students despite increasing enrollment. Cities that were able to significantly increase daily low-income student breakfast participation included Chicago by 32,082 students (40 percent increase), San Diego by 9,660 students (33 percent increase), Boston by 3,129 students (16 percent increase), Houston by 9,078 students (16 percent increase), Philadelphia by 5,943 students (14 percent increase), and Milwaukee by 2,388 students (10 percent increase).

Eligibility for Free and Reduced-Price Meals: How It Works

Any public or private nonprofit school can participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. School districts must apply to their administering state agency—usually the education agency—in order to institute a program, which is administered nationally through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service.

All students in participating schools may take part in the school meals programs. Household income generally determines whether students receive free meals, reduced-price meals, or "paid" meals. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line receive school meals for free. Children from families with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty line receive school meals at a reduced price. All other participating students, officially designated as receiving paid meals, pay most of the cost for their breakfast, often approximately $1.00. As discussed later, however, some schools offer meals—or at least breakfasts—free to all students.

The federal government provides funds to a school (through the state) based on how many breakfasts and lunches it provides to students in each category. In the 2009-2010 school year, schools received $1.46 for each free breakfast, $1.16 for each reduced-price breakfast (families could be charged a maximum co-payment of 30 cents), and $0.26 for each paid breakfast served. Schools received an additional $0.28 for each free and reduced-price breakfast served if at least 40 percent of the lunches served during the second preceding school year were free or reduced-price. (These are called “severe need” schools.)

Food Research and Action Center

School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities


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