Eating breakfast is an important part of good nutrition and healthy eating. Providing nutritious school breakfast not only contributes to long-term health outcomes for children, it is also linked to improved academic performance. Unfortunately, across schools in Allegheny County and Pennsylvania there is widely varying levels of participation in school breakfast programs. While ten schools in Allegheny County are serving more than 50 percent of students school breakfast, there are many other schools that have extremely low participation or do not offer breakfast at school. The Food Resource and Action Center (FRAC) School Breakfast Scorecard reports that PA ranks 41st in the nation in free and reduce eligible students eating both breakfast and lunch at school.
Allies for Children advocated at the state level for the importance of school breakfast. In the 2016 Blueprint Setting the Table: A Blueprint for a Hunger Free Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf established a goal of having all schools in Pennsylvania serve at least 60% of their free and reduced priced population of students both breakfast and lunch. This means having at least 60 students who qualify for free and reduced price meals eat school breakfast for every 100 eating school lunch. In 2020, we were able to report that, according to 2019 breakfast participation data, Allegheny County exceeded that goal by serving breakfast to 61 students who qualify for free and reduced price meals for every 100 eating school lunch!
Over the last several years Allies for Children’s has been working in close partnership with Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank (The Food Bank) to help schools throughout Allegheny County increase breakfast participation, particularly through alternative breakfast models. Since 2016, Allies for Children and The Food Bank have published an annual report about school breakfast participation in Allegheny County, Breakfast Basics: A Comprehensive Look at School Breakfast Participation in Allegheny County. You can read through all of the reports here.
The 2020 Breakfast Basics Update report showed that, Allegheny County is exceeding Governor Wolf’s goal of serving school breakfast to at least 60% of free and reduced eligible students compared to those who eat lunch. As of October 2019, 13 school districts and one charter school in Allegheny County are meeting the statewide goal of 60% participation in breakfast compared to lunch for students eligible for free and reduced-price meals compared to only seven districts in 2016.
When The Blueprint for a Hunger-Free PA was published in 2016, alternative breakfast models were a relatively new concept in most districts throughout Allegheny County. Since data was first self reported and collected in 2017, there has been a 62% increase in schools utilizing an alternative breakfast model. With the help of the breakfast mini-grants, currently 77 schools out of 244 in Allegheny County are utilizing some type of alternative breakfast model. Though some schools are not yet using alternative models, the concepts behind these models are now widely known throughout the region and state. With the help of alternative breakfast models, statewide breakfast grants, and advocacy today nine districts serve breakfast to at least half of their students. In 2014, only four school districts served school breakfast to at least half of their students.
In 2018, for the first time in history districts could apply for supplemental grants to help increase school breakfast participation. In 2018-19, 232 schools received mini-grants for a total of nearly $900,000. Twenty-two schools in Allegheny County received nearly $84,000 in grants. In 2019-2020, 151 schools received mini-grants totaling approximately $600,000, with 11 in Allegheny County receiving $44,000. The statewide breakfast task force served as a facilitator for these grants, Allies for Children assisted in Allegheny County.
In addition to publishing an annual breakfast report, Allies for Children:
- Participates in the Statewide School Breakfast Task Force.
- Provided technical assistance to districts while they implement new alternative breakfast models utilizing mini-grants from PDE.
- Worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Education and Penn State to create a useful data tool for districts and policy-makers to utilize.
In the spring of 2017, Allies for Children received a grant from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation. Over the past year Allies for Children has worked in partnership with The Food Bank to work closely with five school districts to rethink how breakfast is served. The grant permitted resources to assist with facilitated meetings between key staff, professionally designed marketing materials, ad media, equipment, training from The Mentoring Partnership of SWPA, and more. School districts include Gateway, North Hills, South Allegheny, Sto-Rox and West Mifflin. Each district has implemented an alternative breakfast model and has seen successful results. Districts reported a combined increase of over 500 additional students eating school breakfast each day.
While Allies for Children will continue to monitor the school meal space, evidence suggest there is a need for advocacy around The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). WIC provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk. In the near future, Allies for Children sees its work around nutrition transition from school meals to WIC. Some advocacy has already begun as part of the Pritzker work.