Participation in the federally financed school breakfast program jumped 16.3 percent in New Jersey last year, to a total of 182,339 students, according to the School Breakfast Scorecard put out by the Food and Research and Action Center.
Despite this big increase, which the center hailed as both a more effective use of federal programs and a benefit to children, New Jersey remained near the bottom of the list of states that take advantage of the program, climbing from 48th in the country to 46th.
Providing a free breakfast to low-income children supports health and academic achievement, as well as reducing the probability of child obesity, according to the center. Participation in the program also improves student behavior and limits morning disruptions.
Although 2,704 New Jersey schools offers free or reduced-priced lunches, only 1,920 provide a free breakfast. By state statute, all schools with 20 percent or more free and reduced-price-certified students are required to participate in the breakfast program, while it takes only 5 percent of certified students to require participation in the lunch program. The state also provides an additional 4 cents per paid lunch in addition to the federal funding.