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Nebraska Left $9 Million in School Nutrition Funds on Table

In Nebraska, 57,946 students participated in the School Breakfast program in the 2018-19 school year, down about 900 from the previous year. (Pixabay)
In Nebraska, 57,946 students participated in the School Breakfast program in the 2018-19 school year, down about 900 from the previous year. (Pixabay)
February 18, 2020

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska ranked 48th nationally for getting students from low-income families the fuel they need to start the school day ready to learn.

Crystal Fitzsimons, director of school programs for the Food Research and Action Center, the group behind the annual School Breakfast Scorecard, said Nebraska's state coffers also missed out, by not ensuring that at least 70% of kids who participate in reduced-price or free school lunch programs also get breakfast.

But if Nebraska had met that target?

"Thirty-three thousand students would have eaten a nutritious breakfast in Nebraska last school year," Fitzsimons said. "And that would have meant an additional $9.5 million coming into the State of Nebraska to help support good nutrition for their students."

She explained that states with better rankings generally have improved community-eligibility requirements, allowing schools to offer free meals to all students -- a strategy that takes away the stigma for low-income students.

Schools that offer breakfast outside the cafeteria and after the first bell rings also help students who struggle just to get to class on time.

According to Fitzsimons, most schools want kids to have the fuel they need to succeed -- but as large institutions, they can get bogged down making the changes necessary to tap additional resources. She added that some schools also worry that offering meals during classes would mean less time actually teaching kids.

"One of the things that we hear from educators is that if you make sure that kids have a nutritious breakfast, it improves attention, it improves behavior," she said, "and so, it can actually give teaching time back to teachers."

Nearly 58,000 Nebraska students participated in the School Breakfast program in the 2018-2019 school year, but that's down nearly 900 students from the previous year, when Nebraska placed 47th in the annual scorecard.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NE