Evidence shows that breakfast makes a tremendous impact on student’s ability to learn. Students who eat breakfast score 17.5% higher on standardized tests, attend more school days per year, and make fewer trips to the nurse[i]. But while more than 81,000 Illinois students depend on free or reduced-price school lunch, fewer than half of those children receive school breakfast. In fact, Illinois ranks 39th among states for school breakfast participation.
Far too many families lack the resources to provide breakfast at home. Unfortunately transportation and scheduling barriers and stigma prevent many students from accessing cafeteria-style breakfasts. Breakfast After the Bell (BAB) models make school breakfast more flexible, making it easier for students to access the most important meal of the day. BAB has been shown to increase breakfast participation by 82%[ii]. And more than two thirds of Illinois teachers surveyed said that BAB resulted in students that are calmer and more focused, with increased performance at school.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, only 10% of Illinois schools with 70% or more students eligible for free or reduced-price meals had adopted BAB models[iii]. During the pandemic, Illinois schools demonstrated unparalleled innovation and flexibility to connect children with meals, whether providing grab and go meals, breakfast in the classroom, or take home meals.
Motivated by the huge gap in breakfast access and building on the creativity and flexibility schools have demonstrated over the last 18 months, we have a unique opportunity to help schools transition to more flexible breakfast models for the long-term.
Illinois should set a goal of increasing BAB participation to 25% of schools with 70% or more students eligible for free or reduced-price meals, from the current 10%. We estimate this would require an additional 200 schools to adopt the policy.
To support schools in reaching this goal, we propose a state-funded competitive grant program administered by the Illinois State Board of Education to help schools start BAB programs. Several states have established competitive BAB grant programs.[iv] Based on evidence from other states, a $7,000 grant award is impactful in getting schools to transition to BAB.
To meet the 25% BAB school participation goal, we would need a $7,000 grant for 200 schools, or a total of $1.4 million, which we recommend spending over five years. This would enable the Illinois State Board of Education to issue 40 grants per year valued at $7,000 each.
[i] Benefits of School Breakfast – Food Research & Action Center (frac.org)
[ii] secondary-principals-bic-report.pdf (frac.org)
[iii] Breakfast After the Bell models include Breakfast in the Classroom, Grab and Go, and Second Chance Breakfast
[iv] Such as New York, Nevada, California, New Mexico