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School Breakfasts not Reaching Enough Oklahoma Kids

Hunger Free Oklahoma

After years of holding steady in school breakfast participation, Oklahoma has fallen behind several states it used to lead.

Last school year, 58 percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches also ate breakfast at school, according to Hunger Free Oklahoma's school breakfast report card. That proportion is 23rd best in the U.S., down nine spots from three years earlier despite staying about the same.

"So, we know we need to do better and we can do better. But we also know there are a lot of school districts within the state of Oklahoma that we can learn from and take their best practices and spread them out across the state," said Hunger Free Oklahoma Executive Director Chris Bernard.

More schools could take a cue from Oklahoma City’s Highland Park, where kindergarteners through second-graders eat breakfast in the classroom.

"When we go into a school that’s doing breakfast in the classroom and we talk to the teachers, they all say that they’re glad the program’s there, that it makes their job easier, that it gives the children time to sort of sit, calm down, focus themselves and get ready for the day, and it builds community within their classrooms," Bernard said.

Nearly one in four Oklahoma school districts have reached Hunger Free Oklahoma’s goal of 80 percent breakfast participation. If that rate were achieved statewide, 65,000 additional kids would be fed and it would trigger an additional $17 million in federal reimbursements.

"Increasing that participation rate to get more federal reimbursement, bring our dollars back to our state to help support our schools, that’s how you do it. You have to get enough to make it a value add," Bernard said.

Bernard said the easiest way to boost participation is getting more high-need schools to use an eligibility provision to serve all students meals without collecting paper applications.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.