School Breakfast Program

  • Description
  • Funding History
  • Proposals
  • Expert Commentary

The state School Breakfast Program line item supplements Federal School Breakfast funding in Massachusetts. Over 80 percent of schools across the Commonwealth offer breakfast for kids. The Federal School Breakfast program provided a total of over $50 million in funding to support free or low-cost meals to over 160,000 kids in Massachusetts in FY 2015.

The state's School Breakfast line-item provides additional funding for some school breakfast programs that serve high concentrations of kids in poverty. State School Breakfast efforts contain several initiatives, including additional financial support for schools mandated to offer breakfast, and for high-poverty elementary schools offering free universal breakfast programs for all kids, regardless of income.

The United States Department of Agriculture has recently made significant improvements to school meal programs. Since 2014, the USDA has allowed high poverty schools across the country to serve free breakfast and lunch for all students through a program called the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).

This system can increase the number of kids receiving free meals, while reducing the potential stigma for participating students. CEP also reduces the administrative burden of collecting applications from households and checking students’ meal status in school cafeterias each day. For more detail, see the Children’s Budget landing page for School Meals programs.

There are four tiers of federal and state funding for school breakfast. This state funding supports Tier 3 and Tier 4:

Tier 1: Federal Reimbursements. Any child at a participating school may purchase a breakfast through the national School Breakfast Program. Mirroring Federal School Lunch Program eligibility rules and procedures, many children in low-income households qualify for free or reduced breakfast. For more information on specific eligibility rules, see the Children's Budget School Lunch Program description. The baseline Federal breakfast reimbursement rates for Massachusetts in FY 2017 are:

• Free breakfast: $1.71
• Reduced-price breakfast: $1.41
• Paid breakfast: $0.29

Tier 2: Federal Severe Need Reimbursements. Schools qualify for higher "Severe Need" reimbursements if 40% or more of lunches served are at reduced price or free two years prior. Severe Need schools receive an additional 33 cents per breakfast on top of baseline Federal reimbursement for free or reduced price breakfasts.

Tier 3: Massachusetts Reimbursements for Mandated Breakfasts. Massachusetts requires that Severe Need schools with at least 50 free or reduced meal eligible students offer breakfast for students every day. The state adds up to 10 cents per breakfast on top of both the regular federal reimbursement and the federal severe need reimbursement.

Tier 4: Massachusetts Universal Breakfast Program. Massachusetts encourages the highest-poverty public elementary schools—those with 60% or more of their students eligible for free or reduced meals—to offer universal free breakfast. In this program, all students, even those who would not be individually eligible, have regular access to free breakfast. In the Universal Breakfast program, the state adds roughly 15 cents per meal on top of the other reimbursements (Federal, Severe Need, and State Mandated). In 2011-2012, 122,100 children in 272 schools benefited from the Universal Breakfast Program. More recently participation has increased, with 313 schools offering Universal Breakfast in 2015-2016.

Federal reimbursements are calculated differently for schools participating in the Community Eligibility Provision. In those schools, the number of students directly certified for free meals, through their participation in other anti-poverty programs, is multiplied by 1.6 to determine the percent of meals that will be reimbursed at the free rate by the USDA. For example, a school with 50 percent of its students directly certified will be reimbursed for 80 percent of meals served at the free rate, with 20 percent at the lower paid rate.

Updated February 2017

With the introduction of the MCAS, many schools began serving breakfast to all students being tested on the day of the exam. This was based on the notion that a nutritious breakfast improves children’s ability to concentrate and follow instructions. In low-income communities, where children are more likely to come to school hungry and undernourished, school breakfast should be served every school day. Schools can encourage all students to participate in the breakfast program by offering universal breakfast as part of the school day. When they do, their students are better prepared to learn and achieve.

UMass Boston Center for Social Policy, School Breakfast Participation is Directly Correlated with Higher MCAS Scores among Elementary School Students