Hawaiʻi Appleseed is working with its partners in the education community to increase participation in school breakfast programs in Hawaiʻi, including Breakfast After the Bell, to ensure that every hungry child is able to get a nutritious breakfast at school.

A hungry child can’t learn. Sadly, many of Hawaiʻi’s families can’t afford to provide their children with a healthy breakfast every morning. Even families that are financially stable often have such busy schedules that they find it challenging to sit down with their children for a good breakfast in the morning, even though students who skip breakfast have a harder time learning.

One way to ensure that our children are ready to learn every morning is by participating in the federal School Breakfast Program. When students eat school breakfast, they have better nutrition and lower rates of obesity, as well as improved attendance, behavior and grades. School breakfast programs have increased high school graduation rates by as much as 20%.

Hawaiʻi can do more to take advantage of the benefits of school breakfast. Our state ranks a dismal 49th in school breakfast participation, with only 42% of students who eat free or reduced-price school lunch also getting school breakfast.  If our entire state were to raise our school breakfast participation rate to 70 percent, almost 17,000 more of our keiki would benefit from school breakfast, and our state would get nearly $7 million per year in additional federal funds. The Hawai‘i School Breakfast Scorecard found 15 schools in our state – the School Breakfast Champions – who met or exceeded the 70 percent participation goal during the 2015-16 school year.

How Can We Improve School Breakfast in Hawaiʻi

There are proven ways to boost school breakfast participation. One of the best is moving breakfast after the first bell so that everyone can take advantage of breakfast programs, even if they’re unable to get to school early. Breakfast after the bell programs have led to better test scores, attendance, and behavior in over 20 states, in school districts as large as Los Angeles and New York City.

Another effective method of increasing school breakfast participation is community eligibility, which allows high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch free of charge to all students, streamlining the process. Not only does this make it easier for students and their families to access meals, but it also helps schools by eliminating the cost and administrative burden of processing school meal applications. With just over half of Hawaiʻi’s students eligible for free or reduced-price meals, over a quarter of our state’s schools qualify for community eligibility provision (CEP). The Hawaiʻi Department of Education has been proactive and effective in recent years at expanding the number of CEP schools across the state. Hawaiʻi went from seven CEP schools in the 2015-16 school year, to 30 schools in 2016-17, and on to 52 schools in 2017-18. This expansion will help more children gain access to school meals.

The returns on investing in school breakfast are clear: better academic performance for our children, fewer behavioral problems for our teachers to handle, relief for struggling and busy families in the mornings, and millions more federal dollars coming to our state.

Hawaiʻi Appleseed also works to ensure families and low-income people in Hawaiʻi have access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.  More than 40,000 households in Hawaiʻi struggle to put food on the table, and social safety net programs like SNAP help ensure that they can stay afloat.

SNAP makes a huge difference in lifting people out of poverty in Hawaiʻi. In 2017, 74,000 people — including 33,000 children — avoided poverty thanks to SNAP. In addition, 23% of recipient households received enough SNAP benefits to avoid deep poverty.  In addition, SNAP results in profound and lasting benefits to communities by helping families to access nutritious foods.

Yet, thousands of struggling families who are eligible for the program do not take advantage of these benefits. In fact, 16 percent of eligible people — and 24 percent of working poor people — are not enrolled, causing our residents to miss out on over $50 million per year in benefits.

Hawaiʻi Appleseed, along with its local nonprofit partners, hopes to engage the local community by informing them of these benefits and encouraging them to participate in the program.