SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Eleven million low-income children nationwide are participating in free breakfast programs on the average day, according to a new report which finds that Illinois is at the back of the bus when it comes to reaching hungry children.
The report from the Food Research and Action Center ranked Illinois 42nd among the states.
Diane Doherty, executive director of the Illinois Hunger Coalition, said hunger in the classroom is not only bad for a child's health but also for his or her academic performance.
"We know that if kids are trying to learn and trying to focus on an empty stomach, it's much harder for them," she said. "Kids complain about headaches, they complain about stomach aches, they're more tired, they're less able to concentrate."
According to the report, statewide in Illinois, more than 770,000 low-income children receive school lunches, and less than half of them participate in the breakfast program.
The schools that are most successful at feeding children are the ones that use non-traditional, creative approaches to how and when breakfast is served, she said.
"That includes breakfast in the classroom, breakfast after the bell, grab-and-go," she said. "A lot of kids get to school at the last minute. Their parents are rushing off to work, so it's a really busy time. "
Doherty says Illinois is making progress in some areas, with more than 130 school districts now participating in the USDA's Community Eligibility Provision program.
"It's a new federal option that allows high-poverty schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students in a less bureaucratic, simpler, more efficient, time-saving method," she said.
According to the Food Research and Action Center, a reasonable goal is to reach 70 low-income children with school breakfast for every 100 who eat lunch. Illinois missed that goal by a large margin, with only about 45 percent eating both breakfast and lunch at school.
A new report shows 11 million low-income children nationwide are participating in free breakfast programs on the average day. But Mary Schuermann reports Illinois is at the back of the bus when it comes to reaching hungry kids.
The School Breakfast Scorecard is online at frac.org.
Mary Kuhlman - Public News Service, IL