Randy Pench / rpench@sacbee.com

Ten-year-old Isidro Vasquez, a fourth-grader at Woodbine Elementary School, eats breakfast last month at the south Sacramento campus.

Editorial: To learn, kids must start day with a meal

Published: Friday, Jul. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A

It's common sense that kids who start classes when they are reasonably fed are better able to learn.

But despite the resources available to provide breakfasts in schools, not enough is being done – either in Sacramento-area schools or in other counties – to provide proper morning meals for the students who need it most.

According to California Food Policy Advocates, only 27 percent of low-income students in Sacramento County participated in their school's breakfast program in the 2010-11 academic year. Involvement was similarly mediocre in Yolo and Placer counties, which posted rates of 24 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

While school lunch programs post high participation rates across the state – often serving more than 70 percent of low-income students – breakfast programs have remained far behind.

California schools serving low-income populations need to raise the bar on boosting breakfast participation rates. If schools take full advantage of federal programs and reimbursements for meal programs, this is a goal well within reach.

Currently, schools can be reimbursed by the federal government if their breakfast program serves 60 free or reduced-priced breakfasts per 100 lunches of the same designation.

In districts with a majority of children already eligible for free or reduced-priced meals, this benchmark can be surpassed simply by offering all students free breakfast and lunch.

Under Provision 2 of the National School Lunch Act, schools can offer all students free breakfast and lunch while significantly reducing administrative overhead that comes with things like the application process and verification of student eligibility for reduced-price and free meals.

Provision 2 asks that schools cover the difference between the federal reimbursement they receive and the cost of serving meals at no charge to their students. In districts where most children are already covered by federal reimbursements, the cost to schools is minimal.

According to the Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit advocacy group that focuses on hunger and nutrition, California schools lost $100.4 million in federal funding in the 2009-10 academic year because they did not meet the federal threshold for breakfast participation.

A good breakfast won't solve all the challenges of educating students from disadvantaged backgrounds, but it's an essential first step in helping these young people start the day with the energy and focus needed to learn.

For schools with large low-income populations, Provision 2 offers a feasible way to help more students start the day with a healthy, nutritious meal.

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