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Kathy Fisher's Testimony on Philadelphia School Breakfast

Good morning, my name is Kathy Fisher and I am the Policy Director at the Coalition Against Hunger. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today about a critical, yet underutilized support for student health and learning: school breakfast.

Decades of research has shown school breakfast helps to increase standardized test scores, concentration, memory, and the amount of vitamins and minerals in a student’s diet. It has also been shown to reduce tardiness, absenteeism, behavioral issues, hyperactivity, and trips to the nurse.

All School District of Philadelphia schools, as well as the vast majority of charter schools (approximately 80%) have wisely opted for the federal Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) that allows them to provide breakfast and lunch to all students free of charge. The District and charters receive federal reimbursement for each meal that is served.

Considering both District and charter schools, there are over 100 schools reaching more than 70% of students who participate in school lunch with school breakfast. This week we celebrate the success of these schools, and their ability to overcome obstacles to ensure students have access to school breakfast.

However, we also know there are many schools that lag far behind. More than 100 District and charter schools are on the other end of the spectrum, reaching less than half of their students who are participate in lunch with breakfast. And, this is at a time when large school districts across America are making improvements in breakfast participation.

In Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) “School Breakfast: Making it Work in Large School Districts” report released last month, the School District of Philadelphia ranked 44th out of the nation’s 73 largest school districts, reaching 60% of students who participate in school lunch with school breakfast. This respectable 60% masks the fact that the high participation schools bring up the average of the many schools that are not making breakfast accessible to their students.

The disparities in the number of children eating breakfast can be attributed to when and how school breakfast is served. Schools that require students to arrive early to eat in the cafeteria routinely have lower participation than those that make breakfast part of the day and utilize effective service models like Breakfast in the Classroom, Grab-n-Go, and Second Chance.

This is why we are launching the Philadelphia School Breakfast Challenge to encourage schools to learn from others who are doing well, evaluate what models will work best for their school, and implement new approaches in September, 2017. Schools can register for the challenge at: www.phillyschoolbreakfast.org anytime between now and the end of August. Schools that show the greatest increase in breakfast participation comparing fall of 2017 to fall of 2016 will receive awards in the spring of 2018. Philadelphia’s students deserve all the support they can get, and school breakfast is one of them. As a city, we must continue to make progress and make sure our students start the day with the nutrition they need to learn.