Improving Student Achievement through Nutrition

January 1, 2007

Improving Student Achievement through NutritioImproving Nutrition
FRAC’s Recommendations for the Reauthorization
of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) offers an excellent
opportunity to boost student achievement and school performance by making targeted improvements
in certain federal child nutrition programs. These programs provide schools with funding for breakfast
so children start the school day ready to learn; for lunch so they are engaged throughout the school
day; for snacks and in some cases suppers so they fully benefit from extended day learning
opportunities; and meals in school programs and related activities during the summer months so that
learning can continue year round.
Extensive research illustrates the impact of good nutrition on learning. Hunger disrupts the learning
process by making it difficult for a child to concentrate and shortening attention spans. Hungry
children are more likely to have lower math scores, to repeat a grade, and to score lower on cognitive
tests. The child nutrition programs provide children with the nourishment their bodies need, but not
all eligible children are able to participate. Improving and strengthening the child nutrition programs
will help schools boost student achievement dramatically.
Specifically, we propose changes and new programs in the following areas
which provide the greatest opportunities to promote nutrition:
1. Expand afterschool snacks and meals
2. Include all states in the Simplified Summer Food Program
3. Link 21st Century Community Learning Centers to the Nutrition Programs and
Nutrition Education
4. Provide Funding for Competitive Demonstration Grants to Support School
5. Improve the Coordination Between Education and the Child Nutrition
About FRAC:
The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) is the leading national nonprofit organization working to end
hunger by improving and expanding federal nutrition programs.
1875 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 540, Washington, DC 20009
(202) 986-2200 |
Improving Student Achievement through NutritioImproving Nutrition
FRAC’s Recommendations for the Reauthorization
of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
FIVE MODEST STEPS would make a substantial difference to students’ achievement and schools’ improvement:
Expand Federal Support for Afterschool Nutrition
Currently, the Afterschool Supper Program is available in just seven states—Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New
York, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. Federally-funded snacks (now available in all states) are, standing alone, not enough to meet
the needs of afterschool programs and their students. The suppers attract students to educational programs and ensure that
they have the nutrition necessary to learn throughout the afternoon. The Supper Program should be expanded to additional
states. In addition, schools should be able to provide suppers through the National School Lunch Program (not just the Child and
Adult Care Food Program) in order to reduce unnecessary administrative requirements.
Include All States in the Simplified Summer Food Program
Only one in five of the low-income children who participate in the school lunch program during the school year has access
to summer meals. Complicated paperwork and accounting requirements are major barriers for potential program sponsors. The
Simplified Summer Food Program eliminates complicated accounting rules, reduces unnecessary paperwork and decreases
administrative costs, while providing sponsors with the full federal reimbursement. It has had a tremendous impact on
participation in those states where it has been allowed. Since 2001, participation in the 13 states originally included in the pilot
has grown by 43.3 percent, while the rest of the country has dropped by 14.6 percent. Currently, the simplified program is
available in 26 states, but it should be the summer food program in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Link 21st Century Community Learning Centers to Nutrition and Nutrition Education
The 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) program provides funding to schools, nonprofits and for-profit
entities for the core costs of operating afterschool and summer programs. The reauthorization provides the opportunity to make
all 21st CCLC’s automatically eligible for participation in the afterschool snack programs (and suppers if in a supper state) and the
summer nutrition program so that scarce 21st CCLC funds are not spent on food that could be reimbursed. Also, in an effort to
improve student health and wellness, which is crucial to student achievement, offering nutritious food and nutrition education
should be included in the list of additional services that 21st CCLC’s can offer.
Provide Funding for Competitive Demonstration Grants to Support School Breakfast
Less than half of the low-income children who participate in school lunch also participate in breakfast. Unfortunately, not all
schools that provide lunch offer breakfast, and many schools that do offer breakfast erect barriers that limit participation. Local
Education Agencies (LEAs) need support to better utilize federal school breakfast funding and expand participation. The
reauthorization should include $5 million that would be distributed through a competitive grant process to five states to provide
technical assistance, develop outreach materials and a website, report on promising practices, conduct trainings throughout the
state on school breakfast expansion strategies, and monitor achievement gains due to school breakfast expansion.
Improve the Coordination between Education and the Child Nutrition Programs
The child nutrition programs provide federal entitlement dollars that support children’s educational achievement. The
reauthorization could encourage states and LEAs to more fully utilize the federal nutrition programs. For example, sections of the
current ESEA require coordination with other federal legislation, including IDEA and the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance
Act. The Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act should be added to this list. Additionally, the legislation could direct schools
to examine access to the nutrition programs as a way to improve student achievement, and it should require state and LEA plans
to ensure children’s access to school breakfast and lunch and the afterschool and summer nutrition programs.
Improving Student Achievement through NutritioImproving Nutrition
FRAC’s Recommendations for the Reauthorization
of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
What do the facts tell us?
Hunger and poor nutrition are problems that adversely affect academic achievement and make it impossible for children,
particularly low-income children, to meet the 2014 proficiency goals set forth in the reauthorization of the 2002 Elementary and
Secondary Education Act of 1965.
Hunger impairs children’s ability to learn
Even with quality teachers, classroom resources and curriculum, children cannot learn or score well on achievement
tests if they are hungry.
Children experiencing hunger have lower math scores and are more likely to have to repeat a grade.
Malnourished children have difficulty learning because they are usually less motivated, have shorter attention
spans, and have greater trouble expressing their emotions than other children their age.
Children with hunger have more behavioral problems
Children and adolescents experiencing hunger often have more behavioral, emotional, and psycho-social problems such
as suspension from school, difficulties in friendship and getting along with their peers.
Children experiencing hunger are more likely to be hyperactive, absent and tardy.
Teens experiencing hunger are nearly three times as likely to have been suspended from school, and are
nearly twice as likely to have difficulty getting along with other children.
School breakfast boosts test scores and academic achievement
Breakfast is often described as the most important meal of the day, but far too many students have not eaten
anything by the time classes begin each morning. School breakfast has the ability to improve academic achievement,
to attract children to school and decrease tardiness rates.
Children who eat breakfast show improved cognitive function, attention, and memory.
Participating in school breakfast is associated with improved math grades.
School breakfast can improve standardized achievement test scores and lower absence and tardiness rates.
Snacks draw children to afterschool activities
By the time children arrive at their afterschool program lunch is a distant memory. Their growing bodies need food in
between lunch and dinner just to get through the afternoon. Without it, they feel run down, their attention span
shortens, their ability to learn diminishes, and they have difficulty fully participating in afterschool activities.
An Ohio study of afterschool programs cited the importance of snacks and meals in attracting children to
programs that increased scores on proficiency tests and decreased absenteeism and tardiness.
Summer nutrition prevents learning loss
When school lets out, millions of low-income children lose access to the school breakfasts, lunches and afterschool
snacks. During these summer months, low-income children experience greater summer learning losses – forgetting
basic skills and facts – than their higher income peers.
Low-income children’s reading skill levels fall approximately three months behind those of their middle-class
peers over the summer.
USDA research shows that 93 percent of Summer Food Service Program sites provide educational,
developmental or recreational activities in addition to nutritious meals and snacks.
A study conducted in Montgomery County, Maryland found that children who attend an intensive summer
school program that provided breakfast and lunch did not experience the summer effect.