On an average school day in fiscal 2014, some 13.5 million students participated in school breakfast programs, doubling participation since 1996, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS).
Permanently authorized in 1975, the School Breakfast Program has seen the number of schools participating growing steadily , making it available to more students, as funding increased and grants to schools to help start up the program became more available.
The School Breakfast Program has historically targeted low-income areas where the need is greatest and its share of reduced-price or free meals has been larger than that of the National School Lunch Program. But as the latest edition of ERS’s Food Assistance Landscape points out (see chart), the difference between the two programs in this regard has narrowed, with each serving over two-thirds of its meals at reduced price or free.
The “Chart of Note” seen here breaks down the share of full-price, reduced-price, and free meals for the breakfast program. A notable increase in the free and reduced-price share in both programs in recent years likely reflects more children qualifying and choosing to participate during the 2007-09 recession, along with policy changes that have simplified the process of program qualification, according to the USDA.