South Carolina rates the second highest in the nation in serving free or reduced price breakfasts at school. The “School Breakfast Scorecard” reports that 60.2 percent of students participated in both the school lunch and school breakfast program last year.
Todd Bedenbaugh is Director of Health and Nutrition with the South Carolina Department of Education. Bedenbaugh says providing hot nutritious meals at school has been proven to improve nutrition, prevent obesity and increase students’ achievement as well as reduce school discipline problems. He says that the large number of participants is a good thing. “That means we’re reaching out to those kids, and providing them, in most cases, a hot breakfast before school starts. You know, hungry children can’t learn. So it’s very critical that they have nourishment to begin the school day for the academic rigor that they face.”
(Todd Bedenbaugh, Director Health & Nutrition MP3 1:14)
Todd Bedenbaugh, Director Health & Nutrition MP3 1:14
According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), persistent poverty, parent’s work schedules as well as long commutes for children riding buses are among the reasons for the increase. Bedenbaugh attributes the high participation rate to many factors. “In many cases both parents are working, where they used to not, and some work different shifts. Some get on the bus at 6:00 o’clock in the morning, so it’s hard to get them breakfast. I think a lot of those things have contributed to our numbers increasing like they have.”
All public schools in South Carolina participate in the federally-funded school breakfast program which has been required by state law since the 1993-94 school year. While breakfast is available to all students, 84 percent of the breakfasts were served free or at a reduced price.
“If they’re a free child, determined by their eligibility, of course, they’re free. And if they’re reduced, that means they pay 30-cents for breakfast. If they’re paying full price, the fee ranges anywhere from fifty cents to a dollar for breakfast,” said Bedenbaugh. “When you look at it, that’s a carton of milk, a cereal, hot or cold -could be grits, some type of protein, and then a fruit which could be a juice. So, when you can buy that type of breakfast for a dollar, you’re getting a good deal.”
Each year the program serves nearly 37 million breakfasts in South Carolina. On average, about 222,500 students participate in the program each day.