A new national report on school breakfast programs by the nonprofit Washington-based Food Research and Action Center finds Wisconsin’s participation lags behind the rest of the country.
Although about 83 percent of schools in the state participated in the School Breakfast Program, that figure places Wisconsin near the bottom nationally, especially compared to at least 38 other states, where 90 percent or more schools participate in the program.
The report also finds the number of Wisconsin students who received breakfast at school through the federally subsidized School Breakfast Program decreased slightly in the 2017-18 school year even though participation nationally increased.
School breakfast programs are funded through a combination of federal and state monies. The federal School Breakfast Program provides financial assistance to states to operate nonprofit breakfast programs in schools.
Participating entities receive cash subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve breakfasts that meet federal requirements, and they must offer free or reduced-price breakfasts to eligible children. Due to decreases in federal funding, however, payments to local child nutrition programs have not been enough to cover the costs of providing school breakfasts to students.
The state has tried to step in to supplement the federal funding. On top of federal money, Wisconsin has a school reimbursement rate for free and reduced breakfast that is supposed to provide 15 cents a meal, regardless of a student’s eligibility for free or reduced-price meals. However, if the amount appropriated is insufficient to provide that amount, payments are prorated.
Due to a consistent funding shortfall, proration has become a consistent feature of the state’s funding effort. The appropriation was reduced by 10 percent in 2011-12 and has been stuck at about $2.5 million ever since. In fact, the state hasn’t paid schools 15 cents per meal since 2006. Reimbursements have fallen steadily to the point where the state share is currently has dropped to about 7.5 cents per meal, a 50 percent proration.
To reverse this trend, in its 2019-21 budget request, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has requested about $2.8 million per year in additional funding in both 2019-20 and in 2020-21 to fund school breakfast assistance.
As part of its request, the DPI noted:
“Studies have concluded that students who eat breakfast at the start of the school day have increased math and reading scores, as well as improvements in their speed and memory in cognitive tests. Additionally, children who eat breakfast closer to class and test-taking time perform better on tests. Many children do not eat a nutritious breakfast every morning and children who eat school breakfast tend to have a more nutritious breakfast.”