Breakfast, everyone?
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education voted June 11 to provide breakfast at no charge to all students. Universal Breakfast, as the program is called, will be available to all students regardless of household income starting in the 2013-2014 school year. The district decision is supported by a wide range of national research showing that hunger, and particularly child hunger, is a national problem. A recent study by the Pew Research Institute found that 24 percent of Americans reported difficulty in having enough food over the last 12 months. Data from the national charity Feeding America showed that North Carolina was one of seven states with higher food insecurity rates (the term for difficulty getting food) than the national average. Locally, organizations such as Loaves and Fishes, which are dedicated to helping the hungry, report steady increases in need over the past five years.

Hunger affects 21 million children in the U.S., according to the philanthropic organization No Kid Hungry, and not having enough to eat can affect health, academic performance and school attendance. Extensive research nationally has shown that eating breakfast is linked to fewer absences, higher academic achievement and increased graduation rates.

“Coming to school hungry can hurt a student’s chances of success,” said Dr. Heath E. Morrison, superintendent of CMS. “It’s important for schools to help the whole child and Universal Breakfast will help us do that more effectively. While we rely on many outside organizations to help provide a wide range of wraparound support, providing breakfast is something our schools can do for children.”

Slightly more than half – 54 percent – of all CMS students are classified as economically disadvantaged students (EDS) because their family income falls at or below the federal poverty line. In CMS, 126 schools receive funding for breakfast because they meet the criteria for severe need. State funding allows the district to subsidize the reduced-price breakfast so that it is provided at no charge.

A pilot program in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in the 2012-2013 school year found that fewer than half of the students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch also ate a school breakfast.

“Breakfast can have a significant impact on student learning,” said Cindy Hobbs, executive director of CMS Child Nutrition. “We are glad to be able to offer a free breakfast to all students because we think it will help our students succeed.”

The CMS pilot of Universal Breakfast was conducted in May at Elon Park Elementary and Oaklawn Language, Reid Park and Westerly Hills academies. Increases in participation in the breakfast program ranged from two to 12 percent at the schools.

Nationally, districts in Hillsborough (Tampa), and Miami-Dade in Florida, New York City and Baltimore have successfully launched and sustained free universal-breakfast programs.