Health care: School Breakfast in the South Federal Funds Available Compared With Funds Used Fiscal 1978

By Judy Currie

Vol. 1, No. 8, 1979, pp. 22-23

Since getting an adequate diet is important in order to perform at maximum potential, the idea that all school children should have the opportunity to eat a well-balanced meal each morning would not seem to be a point of major controversy. The U.S. Congress supported this idea when it enacted legislation to provide school breakfasts at little or no costs to state and local governments. Yet, school hoards in the II Southern states have exhibited such resistance and apathy toward the issue that in 1978 alone, they refused $285 million in federal funds which would have been made available to them if school breakfasts had been provided that year to children who ate subsidized school lunches.

Additional funds are available to "especially needy" schools, roughly defined by the 1978 law as those in which 40 percent or more of the school lunches are served free or at reduced prices. Since in the South over 50 percent of all lunches are either free or at a reduced price, the majority of Southern schools would qualify for the "especially needy" provision and thus be eligible for an additional $65 million. In all, failure to take advantage of this provision means a potential loss of $350 million to Southern states.

While all students who take advantage of school lunches do not take advantage of school breakfasts even when they are offered, the fact that in 1978 almost two-thirds of all Southern schools offering school lunches did not offer school breakfasts only goes to show the vast potential for program expansion.

The program, established in 1966 on a pilot basis, was given permanent status and unlimited funding in 1975. The legislation permits schools to


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serve nutritious breakfasts at minimal costs to their own budgets. The law places no priorities or limitations on the number of schools or children served. It requires only that the school boards apply to the state school food director for the program.

The resistance to the program has been substantial and is usually couched in terms of "practical" problems. One such problem is that the program will "undermine" the family. The fact that only one in five American children today eats an "adequate" breakfast is however, not a result of the school breakfast program but rather a clear indication of the need for such a program. The program in no way prevents parents who wish to serve their children a good breakfast at home from doing so.

Another problem cited in opposition to the school breakfast program is that it is another ''welfare program"-not suitable to the role of an educational system. Since a child's ability to take full advantage of educational opportunity is dependent in large part on whether the child has an adequate diet, the program is essential to education performance. A South Carolina school food director, put it this way, "I'm not cold-hearted enough to say that you should take your social philosophy out on a kid."

Participation rates by Southern schools in the school breakfast program is increasing rapidly, however, the resistance is both emotional and disheartening. A recent example of this resistance occurred in Auburn, Alabama, where a newly initiated breakfast program was only costing the school system $50 per month, but the school board cancelled the program after only two months operation. Concerned citizens raised $1,200 to cover any difference between costs and federal funds but there was a serious question about whether the board would accept it. Finally, after a lengthy discussion at a board meeting attended by nearly 30 Auburn residents, the school board decided to accept the money and resume the program.

Although some school boards are more reasonable than Auburn's, in each, concerned citizens are needed to urge that the school board implement the program. Unfortunately too few Southerners have made this move.