Hawai‘i Home to Lowest School Breakfast Participation in US

Hawai‘i now holds the dubious honor of having the lowest school breakfast participation in the country, according to a release from the Hawai‘i Appleseed Center For Law & Economic Justice.

According to the newest national School Breakfast Scorecard, released Thursday by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), 25,476 low-income children in Hawai‘i participated in the National School Breakfast Program on an average school day in 2018-2019. That represents a decrease of 2.7%, or 1,047 students, from the previous year.

FRAC’s report finds that fewer than 40 low-income children in Hawai‘i ate school breakfast for every 100 that received free or reduced-price school lunch during the 2018–2019 school year. This is far below the national average of 57.5 per 100.

The top two states, West Virginia and Vermont, had 83 and 70, respectively, out of 100 of their low-income lunch students also getting school breakfast. If Hawai‘i can increase its rate to 70%, nearly 20,000 additional low-income keiki would receive the benefits of school breakfast, and the state would receive an additional $5.8 million per year in federal funds, the release said.

Hawaiʻi’s First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige, a former public-school teacher and vice principal, is encouraging students to start their day with breakfast at school.

“We know it’s hard to concentrate when you’re hungry, and when students eat breakfast, they’re ready to learn and more likely to succeed,” she said.

The School Breakfast Scorecard also describes best practices to boost school breakfast participation. The first is utilizing the Community Eligibility Program (CEP), which allows high-poverty schools to offer school meals free of charge to all students.

The Hawaiʻi Department of Education has been proactive and effective in recent years at expanding the number of CEP schools across the state, the release said. 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.