The State of New Jersey ranks 46th of 50 states for its participation in the national School Breakfast Program, according to the New Jersey Food For Thought School Breakfast Report.
On the whole, 33 percent of children in Gloucester County who are eligible for free or reduced lunches are taking advantage of the program. There has been no change in this number since 2012, according to the report.
The West Deptford school district only has 24 percent of all children eligible for the program enrolled. Children in nearby National Park only participate at a 20 percent rate ranked as the second-lowest in the county (tied with Monroe Twp.); Pitman had a 2 percent participation rate.
National Park and Westville landed on the “School Breakfast Underachievers” list because of their high child poverty rates and low participation in the program. The report claims that 54 percent of children in National Park live in poverty, and 51 percent of Westville children do.
The large number of students not participating in the program can also have an impact on local school districts when it comes to federal reimbursement money.
The West Deptford School District theoretically could collect $169,760 in school breakfast funds if it improved from enrolling 24 percent to 100 percent of all eligible students in the program. Currently, 645 of 844 eligible students are not participating, according to the report.
Westville could collect a maximum of $40,230, and National Park could collect $34,893, according to the report. Woodbury, which had a 52 percent participation rate in the program, could collect $143,249.
(The report states that calculation represents the amount of federal dollars that districts would receive if every eligible child received a school breakfast all 180 days of the school year, and notes that "these funds can only be used for breakfast expenses.")
If each of the 7,000-plus eligible children in Gloucester County participated in the program, county school districts could collect $2 million in additional reimbursement money to provide breakfast, according to the report.
“School breakfast addresses a major barrier to learning,” Advocates for Children of New Jersey Executive Director Cecilia Zalkind said in a prepared statement.
“School districts should be commended for stepping up to meet the school breakfast challenge. Unfortunately, there is much work to do. About 300,000 children are still missing out on that all-important morning meal at school.”
New Jersey remains among the lowest-participating states in the country despite seeing a 35 percent increase in the number of students receiving breakfast at school—up from about 136,000 children in October 2010 to about 184,000 in April 2013, according to the report, which only evaluates school districts in which more than 20 percent of the student population is eligible for the program.