BLOOMINGTON — Illinois is getting a decisive “F” for its school breakfast programs, according to results of a new study issued by the Illinois Hunger Coalition.
The state ranks 50th for providing breakfasts to students who also are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. Only Wisconsin was worse, ranking 51. The study included all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
There is no logical reason Illinois should rank so low in its breakfast offerings, said Diane Doherty, the coalition’s executive director. She predicts Illinois’ ranking will improve next year once a new state law goes into effect requiring almost 400 schools to offer breakfast.
Those 400 schools are the ones with more than 40 percent of their student population eligible for free and reduced-price meals, a federal designation based on a family’s income.
“I’m really expecting we won’t be 50th next year,” Doherty told The Pantagraph.
In District 87, three elementary schools, one junior high school and one early education school will be required to offer breakfast programs; in Unit 5, the rule affects five elementary schools. Also affected are Bloomington Safe School, run by DeWitt-Livingston-McLean Counties Regional Office of Education; and Hammit School and Hammitt High School, both run by The Baby Fold in Normal. Some programs are already in place.
Unit 5 has already applied for and will receive a $2,700 federal start-up grant for its breakfast program, Doherty said.
District 87 gets much higher marks for its breakfast offerings than the state average, Doherty said.
She attributes that in part to Connie Mueller, director of food services for Bloomington’s District 87, who set up a breakfast program here in 2004. Mueller trains other food-service directors how to run such a program.
“She (Mueller) knows how to start new programs and to make them cost-effective,” said Doherty, describing Mueller as a state leader in these efforts.
“The feedback I receive from staff and parents (about the breakfast program) is that students do much better in school when they have breakfast,” said District 87 Superintendent Bob Nielsen. “Our students clearly benefit.”
Across the state, almost 500,000 low-income children do not eat school breakfasts and do not receive the nutrients they need to concentrate.
Less than 30 percent of eligible Illinois students – even fewer in Chicago — actually eat school breakfasts, according to the hunger coalition.
A proposed “Universal School Breakfast” for Chicago public schools would remove the stigma attached to children having school breakfasts because all students would have a free school breakfast in their first class, Doherty said. The proposal would allow anyone to eat, without changing bus times or disrupting schedules.