Nearly all Allegheny County students who receive free or reduced-price lunch are also eligible for free breakfast. A new report from Allies for Children and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank shows 61 percent of students who qualify for free breakfast in the area are getting it.
In 2016, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf set a goal that 60 percent of all Pennsylvania students who get free or reduced-price lunch also get breakfast. This is the first year that Allegheny County has met the goal.
Mara Kelosky, research and operations manager at Allies for Children, says eating a healthy breakfast is very important for kids, especially those living with food insecurity.
"It can help their attention span, it can also help with their academics and they listen closer in school," Kelosky said. "And we've actually found that it can actually help with school attendance."
Kelosky said this bump in breakfast participation is due in part to an increase of mini grants from the state, which range from $1,500 to $5,000 for school districts. She said these give schools flexibility to set up breakfast programs to best fit their students' needs.
"Schools can really make the program whatever works for them," Kelosky said. "In some schools they're okay with letting students eat right in the hall while they're mingling with friends, other school districts have students go to the cafeteria just because it makes sense."
According to Randal Lutz, superintendent of Baldwin-Whitehall School District, flexibility in program structure helped reach more students. The district now provides free breakfast for all elementary school students.
"More and more families are in need of various levels of assistance. Part of what we have learned is that children are coming to school hungry," Lutz is quoted in the report. "By dedicating time each morning for all elementary children to participate in the breakfast program, we can ensure that all children have a great start to their school day."
The report authors encourage the preservation of policies that normalize free breakfasts for students.