Does Free School Breakfast Enable Parents to Fail?

Filed under: Opinions

Rachel campos-duffy

Last week a teacher I know told me that over the years she has seen more and more children arriving at school without their teeth brushed, hair combed, and lacking appropriate clothing for the weather.

Curious, I asked her why she thought this was the case. It's simple, she said: "I think it's free school breakfast." If parents don't have to feed their kids before school, many will just stay in bed leaving children as young as five and six to fend for themselves -- thus the mussed up hair, bad breath, and mitten-less hands.

The very next day (I kid you not!) there was a news story of a six year-old Virginia boy who, after missing his school bus, got into the family car and drove ten miles before crashing into a pole -- all in an attempt to get to school on time. Why? He didn't want to miss his school breakfast! Where was mom? Asleep.

In the 2006-2007 school year, 10 million children participated in the School Breakfast Program (SBP) and federal reimbursements for the SBP totaled $2 billion dollars. With numbers like that, it's worth pondering whether the well-intentioned SBP is actually having the unintended effect of taking parents out of their children's lives. Especially when a recent government study indicates that at least 20% of federally funded meals are accessed by ineligible families -- families that might otherwise make their own breakfast and possibly spend a little more time with their kids in the morning.

On Meet the Press this week, California congresswoman Maxine Waters said that congressional leaders recently gathered to discuss what she described as a "crisis" in parenting in America. If parenting is in crisis, are government programs actually making things worse? Are they enabling parents to shirk responsibility for their child's basic needs -- needs like breakfast and teeth brushing and mittens? Or in the very least, is the SBP unintentionally short-changing kids who would benefit from more parental interaction in the morning?

Truthfully, it's really not that expensive to make a healthy breakfast. A week's worth of oatmeal for one child costs about $1.00 and is probably a heck of a lot more nutritious than what is being served at school. When it's that cheap to feed a child, we have to ask if free breakfast is an issue of poverty or an issue of convenience for many families.

The heartbreaking truth is that there will always be those children who show up to school with an empty stomach. For these children I hope schools will continue to provide a free breakfast, as well as a free lunch -- and hopefully, a warm hug from a teacher who cares.

Does the free breakfast program hurt kids or help them?
It helps kids - good nutrition is crucial for learning.218 (38.0%)
It hurts kids - parents are getting off the hook for more than breakfast. 94 (16.4%)
Who can tell? You never know what goes on in someone else's family.262 (45.6%)

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.