My mother always told me that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. I didn’t know how right she was until I spoke to Diane Doherty, a 49th Ward resident and Executive Director of the Illinois Hunger Coalition. Diane convinced me to introduce a resolution in the City Council calling for the establishment of a Universal School Breakfast Program in the Chicago Public Schools.
According to Diane, studies show that students who start their day with a nutritious school breakfast perform better in math and reading and increase their speed and memory on cognitive tests. Studies also show that children who eat school breakfast consume more fruits, drink more milk and eat less saturated fat than those who don’t eat breakfast or eat breakfast at home A contributing factor to escalating child obesity rates is the failure of many children to eat a nutritious breakfast.
Despite these statistics, I was surprised to learn that even though 80% of Chicago Public School students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, only 22% of those children participate in their school’s breakfast program.
I was even more surprised to learn that the Chicago Public Schools could provide each child with a nutritious breakfast at the start the school day at little or no additional cost to the Public Schools’ budget. The federal government reimburses schools for each meal consumed based on a child’s income. And the state government provides additional funding to schools for each breakfast and lunch served to low-income students.
New York City, Newark, Houston, Denver, Seattle, Cleveland, Baltimore and Washington D.C. all operate successful Universal Breakfast Programs in their schools.
Why can’t Chicago adopt a universal school breakfast program?
In an attempt to find the answer to that question, the City Council Committee on Education chaired by Alderman Patrick O’Connor held hearings Wednesday on my resolution. After hearing the testimony from a Board of Education representative, it was clear that bureaucratic inertia, more than anything else, explains the failure to adopt a universal school breakfast program in Chicago.
While a half-hearted attempt was made a few years back to start a universal school breakfast program at two or three Chicago Public Schools, no real effort was expended to make the program work or expand it to other schools.
I’m pleased to report that Alderman O’Connor and my colleagues on the committee expressed a strong desire to press the Chicago Public Schools on this issue. Alderman O’Connor said he would hold another hearing on my resolution in the near future, and told the Public Schools representative to convey to Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan the committee’s strong desire to see the CPS move forward with a plan to implement a universal school breakfast program.
The scientific evidence is clear. Providing school breakfasts to our children improves their school performance and their overall health and well-being. We owe it to our city to make our kids healthy and ready to learn!
I will continue to keep you informed of my progress on this issue, and I will let you know of the next hearing date.