The Feasibility of Mandating School Breakfast in California's Severe Need Schools: Costs, Challenges, and Recommendations
Methodologies: Survey Research
California Department of Education
For school children, breakfast may be the most important meal of the day.
Research shows that students who regularly eat a nourishing breakfast perform better in school and on standardized tests, get along better in the classroom, are generally happier, and even reduce their risk of obesity. Eating a healthy breakfast daily is especially important for children from low-income families.
Consistent with national trends, California has been gradually increasing the proportion of students who are participating in the School Breakfast Program (SBP). Progress has slowed in California, however, compared to many other states. To accelerate progress, the California Legislature has recently taken steps to ensure greater access to the School Breakfast Program for students attending predominantly low-income schools.
This study, prepared by WestEd for the California Department of Education (CDE), is a follow-up to the summary study and subsequent report, submitted to the California State Legislature regarding the requirements of Chapter 72 of the Statutes of 2006 (Assembly Bill 569/Garcia).
Chapter 72 required the CDE to report to the State Legislature on the cost and feasibility of mandating that all of the state's severe need schools, K-12, participate in the SBP. "Severe need" schools are those where 40% or more of their students participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
This study addressed the following key questions:
- What are the most important challenges to severe need schools providing a school breakfast every school day?
- What state personnel and financial resources would be needed in order to successfully address these challenges?
- What would be the long-term benefits to having the state provide severe need schools the resources needed for them to offer a school breakfast to students every school day?
- What waiver criteria would be needed to make practical a new state mandate that would require all severe need schools (except those waived) to provide students with a school breakfast every school day?
To determine the feasibility of mandating school breakfast in California's severe need schools, WestEd researchers randomly sampled 104 (18.2%) of the state's 570 severe need schools not offering breakfast, yielding 73 school districts in the sampling plan.
Information about the costs of providing a school breakfast was obtained through interviews with 44 school districts (60 schools) that did not offer the SBP and interviews with seven school districts (7 schools) that recently adopted the SBP.
Results also used CDE data obtained from 6,523 severe need schools in California about their SBP status. A range of cost estimates was then obtained that was used to project the likely costs of severe need schools adopting the School Breakfast program. Waiver criteria were suggested for severe need schools whose school breakfast costs far exceeded these estimates.
The key recommendation that resulted from this study was to support a state requirement that severe need schools provide breakfasts but with a provision to permit those schools with special circumstances to request a waiver from the State Board of Education.
Results suggested that school compliance with the waiver would be higher if the legislature appropriated more funding to support schools providing a school breakfast.
As with all survey research, there is imprecision in the estimates because of sampling error and non-participation by schools selected for interviews. A constraint on the cost estimates as representative figures was the fact that all cost estimates were derived from interviews with food service managers and district business services staff of districts that currently have one or more severe need schools that do not serve breakfast. No comparable cost information was solicited from staff of districts that provided the SBP at all of their severe need schools.