WASHINGTON – Maryland’s school breakfast program achieved only middling success this year, despite the fact that it was one of only four states to fund a universal free in-class breakfast program, according to a new report.
The School Breakfast Scorecard, which compares participation rates in school breakfast programs with those of the National School Lunch Program, ranked Maryland 20th. The Food Research and Action Center has been publishing the scorecard for the past 12 years.
Lynn Parker, the center’s child nutrition program director, said that the ranking should not detract from the state’s “unique and groundbreaking” approach to providing universal in-class breakfasts through the Maryland Meals for Achievement program.
“Maryland has done a terrific job of expanding the program,” she said.
But the report estimates that Maryland has failed to reach about 23,949 Maryland low-income children who could be eligible for a free or reduced-price breakfast.
The report said the best states served 55 free or reduced-price breakfasts for every 100 such lunches. Maryland’s ratio was 44 to 100 — down marginally from 2001, when the state ranked 19th nationally.
Carol Fettweis, who runs the child nutrition section of the state Department of Education, said limited state funding for the Meals for Achievement Program is one of the biggest factors keeping more children from receiving breakfasts.
“We have a state budget crunch. The program is not receiving any expansion funds,” Fettweis said.
The department sees the free in-class universal breakfasts that Meals for Achievement offers as the answer. According to the program’s 2001 year-end report, “about one in 10 students makes the trip to the cafeteria for breakfast” in schools statewide. Schools that participate in the MMFA program average a 72 percent participation rate.
Maryland requires public elementary schools to serve breakfast. Schools may apply for the MMFA program if 40 percent or more of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-price meals.
The department successfully petitioned the legislature last year to continue the program, which was set to end in June. But that simply left MMFA a permanent, but unfunded, program.
The $1.9 million that was provided for the program last year was not enough — only 101 of the 167 schools that applied for the program were funded. And last year’s level of funding is not guaranteed for next year.
Ironically, Thursday’s report said that Maryland could qualify the state for an estimated $4.8 million in additional federal funds if it could reach the families it is not now serving.