Monday, June 17, 2013

From biscuits to diplomas?

Will Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools'  new free breakfast program produce thousands more graduates?

Well  ...  I'd take that claim with a grain of salt.

Cindy Hobbs,  who heads the CMS child nutrition program,  was ecstatic when the school board OK'ed a plan to provide free breakfast to all students, regardless of family income.  By removing the stigma associated with getting a free meal,  supporters of the plan hope kids will start their school day with a nutritious meal,  eventually improving behavior, attendance and academic performance.

"We could be looking at 3,500 more children to graduate,  based on their 20 percent graduation rate,"  she told the board just before the 7-1 vote.

When I asked about that number,  she acknowledged it's more of a hope than a solid projection,  and one that would take many years to play out.

The CMS presentation used numbers drawn from  "Ending Childhood Hunger: A Social Impact Analysis," done by Deloitte for the advocacy group No Kid Hungry.  It's the kind of study designed to make a case,  with clear language, nice visuals and strong conclusions. It cites findings that students who participate in school breakfast programs attend 1.5 more days of school a year, score 17.5 percent higher on math tests and have fewer behavior problems.  The 20 percent figure comes from a different study,  which found that students who miss fewer than five days of school a year  --  not necessarily those who eat breakfast  --  are 20 percent more likely to graduate.  Based on that,  Deloitte extrapolated that the Maryland program they were reviewing might  "see up to 56,000 additional students achieving math proficiency and 14,000 more high school graduates over time."

Hobbs said she used that same approach to extrapolate a CMS increase in graduates over an unspecified period of time.

The source cited in the Deloitte footnote is a 36-page academic research review on breakfast studies done since the 1990s.  It's harder to get through than a big bowl of unsalted grits.  I did my best,  and found several studies showing that students performed better on some tests,  logged better attendance and appeared to be better behaved when they had breakfast.  But,  as tends to be the case with real academic research,  it's chock full of qualifiers,  along the lines of  "not statistically significant"  and  "another data source produced contradictory results."

There's no mention of any study linking breakfast to graduation rates.

Common sense tells us that sausage biscuits aren't the golden ticket to education reform.  It brings me back to a notion I've written about before,  that real change comes from 100 one-percent solutions, not one or two big reforms.  It would be lunacy to offer free breakfasts and figure the work is done,  but CMS leaders are hoping it's one small piece of a program to help more kids succeed.

While we're on the biscuit beat,  did anyone else cringe at the notion that kids are getting "turkey sausage on a whole-grain biscuit"?  Hobbs told the board that school cafeterias avoid pork because many families have religious prohibitions.

I happen to like turkey sausage.  But a whole-grain biscuit?  Is that even a real thing?

Real biscuits?

Hobbs laughed when I asked.  "They're  ...  OK," she said tactfully.  As a Southerner, she said, she wouldn't serve or eat them,  but the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires certain portions of whole grains in school meals.


Anonymous said...

Ann, you should keep a counter of FALSE FACTS that come out of CMS. The political culture of the district is focused so much on getting pet projects approved, truth is irrelevant. There is one guarantee, however, we can have with this free breakfast program: food waste will skyrocket in schools where participation increases. Ask CMS for a tally of how many pounds of unconsumed free food are thrown directly into garbage bags each day at breakfast. They won't have an answer because they won't allow schools to weigh it.

Anonymous said...

Stigma? Sometimes my children choose to participate in the morning breakfast program and I pay for it. Not once have they ever stated anyone mentioned a stigma or embarrassment.

Anon @ 6:59am. You have that right. I see a lot of food, most of it untouched, thrown in the waste cans at CMS.

Ann, keep up the good work.

jay1937 said...

During my young years in school, I had breakfast before I left home. My family was poor and we had to get by on what we had. Many times I left home hungry but waited until the lunch schedule to eat my bologna and mustard sandwich mom had made and put in a paper sack. There were no cookies, no chips, no nothing other than the sandwich. I now suggest that those that get a free breakfast are usually already on food stamps and I thought that what food stamps were for, to fix the kids breakfast and make them a lunch to carry to school, not to purchase steaks, lobster, or other foods for the parents! What a wasteful generation and a dependent one on the 'Nanny State'. The problem with handouts such as this is the kids now getting it will continue to expect so much more as they grow into adults. Perhaps that is what the government (Politburo) wants.

Wiley Coyote said...

...By removing the stigma associated with getting a free meal, supporters of the plan hope kids will start their school day with a nutritious meal, eventually improving behavior, attendance and academic performance.


The National School Lunch Act was signed into law by Harry truman in 1946 and you're just now worried about stigma?

Ms. Hobbs? How do you remove the stigma of these same kids getting free school supplies, free AP/IB tests and in CMS get to play sports for free, all because they have been declared economically disadvantaged?

To use your logic, then go BACK to allowing ALL students to have free AP/IB tests and play sports for free just like they did a few years ago so shhhh, there is no stigma.

Also, until you're allowed to fully audit the lunch program, save us your rhetoric on stigma because you are one of the people who allows fraud in the NSLP and should be prosecuted for doing so, along with every USDA official enabling waste and fraud.

Google free breakfast program. You'll see the exact same talking points verbatim in virtually every state and school system that has implemented this program.

This is a moneymaker folks, so the more on the dole, the more money school districts can make.

Chicago Public Schools MADE $9.8 MILLION dollars on their meal program.

Some in the food service community see the BIC program as a major cash cow because U.S. Department of Agriculture reimbursements for each meal can far exceed what it actually costs to produce the meal.

In CPS’s case, last year it got $33.6 million from USDA for the program — but only had to spend $23.7 on the program.

This left $9.8 million in additional revenue, CPS reported. With the enforced roll-out (breakfast program), those revenue figures are expected to double.

Anonymous said...

Ann, Can you tell an old fogy, who always served breakfast at home, how the breakfast program works? Do all kids have the option of going to the cafeteria for breakfast when they arrive at school (with those currently not eligible for free breakfast paying if they choose to eat)? Or does everyone go to the cafeteria first? Or is breakfast served in the classrooms--or will it be served in the classrooms once everyone is eligible?

As for the stigma thing, I seriously doubt that is a big issue but if it is perhaps that's good, at least for older kids. Why should they think that living off the dole is a great option in life?

Anonymous said... beat me to it. Food stamps ARE meant to cover meals for the child.. so it IS double-dipping. I made this same argument on another site once and the columnist responded "the child should not suffer due to the parent's poor decision-making" (i.e. not using the food stamps to provide a meal for their children). Not providing a meal for their children, when resources are available, is called neglect.

For what its worth said...

Ann, by my count with all these "noble" (tongue in check because we know the real purpose of the proposals is the kudos the orginators get) programs instituted for the last 12 years at CMS, the graduation rate should be 187%.

Anonymous said...

This is very confusing. I thought that "diversity" was the cure all for education. Fannie Flono has told us that for years. Now it appears she was wrong--she should have been pushing free breakfast for all. I wonder which "cure" will tally up the greater cost--years of manipulating assignment for diversity's sake or free food for all.

By the way, I agree with the neglect comment made by 8:58. There's also a "backpack" program in which needy kids take home a backpack full of food for the weekend, since their parents somehow can't feed them for two days. I always wondered how anyone who was not feeding their child was allowed to retain custody of that child.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Hobbs this breakfast is certainly not nutritious for the students. I highly doubt it will raise graduation rates by 20%. Who is going to pay to supervise the students attending the free breakfast? For how long can the kids "hang out" before going to class? Will this alter the bus schedule? Can parents get annual vouchers for not using the program? What is the increased cost to CMS to manage the program? Seems like another program CMS knows nothing about and they just jumped to a 7-1 board vote. Keith W. Hurley

Tandemfusion said...

Each time I see an article that cites higher academic achievement rates for students who eat breakfast, I wonder again why no one ever mentions that no study academically rigorous study has ever concluded that there is a causal link between the meal and the academic results.
(Before someone says that breakfast is the most important mean of the day, or that it jump stars your metabolism, etc., know that the former was an advertising slogan dreamed up by w.h. Kellogg, and the remainder fall, along with the student performance thing, into the category of breakfast myths, the are an endless array of impressive sounding studies, including several by the NIH which suggest these things, but ALL of them are essentially advocacy, and use the method of suggesting the coincidence is cause, without actually controlling for any of the independent variables other than breakfast. Most are tautological, and never even attempt to overcome that,)

For what its worth said...

Why does the media refuse to address issues of neglect and abuse by these "parents" that 8:58 and 9:18 bring up?

Essentially, a person living in poverty giving birth to a child is abuse.

Anonymous said...

Free meals are also provided during the summer. See . To see where free food is offered in the Charlotte area go to the following site and fill in Meck county info. Not trying to be hard hearted but see the statement from first site that as a taxpayer I just love:

"The Simplified Summer Food Service Program:
Dramatically cuts paperwork by eliminating complicated accounting requirements.
Ensures that all sponsors receive the maximum federal reimbursement. The funding can really add up."

Anonymous said...

Who was the one board member that voted against this? And who was absent for the vote?

Wiley Coyote said...

Amelia Stinson-Wesley voted against the plan, and Eric Davis was absent.

Anonymous said...

My kids eat breakfast before going to school. I would like to know how this program works since they don't need a breakfast provided by the school.

Wiley Coyote said...

Follow the money...

Why do you think the NSLP is always attached to a farm bill?

Look at the sponsors of this program...Wal Mart...ConAgra...

Again, there are kids in this country that truly need the benefits, no question about it, but the perpetuation of fraud and the associated waste in other programs year after year is appalling.

We cut teacher salaries and other programs that would help all children because "we don't have the money", yet BILLIONS are wasted each year on this program and other programs where the ED designation applies.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Wiley is correct about the voting.

10:41, your child just wouldn't eat breakfast at school (though Richard McElrath did raise concerns about kids who might eat a second breakfast and not tell their parents). Hobbs repeatedly said the goal isn't to stop kids from eating at home or feed them twice, but to give the option to anyone who wants/needs breakfast at school.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Old Fogy, the details of serving are still being worked out. Some schools are getting grants to install kiosks near the bus drop-off where students could grab a breakfast. Whether they'll take them to class or eat in the cafeteria (or wherever they wait before school) I don't know and I think may vary by school.

BolynMcClung said...


...then let's go all out and make it a healthy and moral meal

PETA(oops pita) bread instead of biscuits

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

10:41 Once CMS becomes a entire LIFT school choice then your children wont have to be concerned. A their new private school or Charter school that you pay for with your state voucher you wont have to deal with this petty garbage. You can actually get value for your hard earned tax dollars at that point. My estimation is within 5 years 10-15 new Charter schools will operate from vacated CMS school buildings. Staffed with you guessed it some great teachers from ex- CMS schools. Give it time and CMS with its seriously poor leadership is under the scope of the state of NC. The voucher program is already proposed for a reason they can see no future in our current system.

Anonymous said...

I used to be a volunteer at a CMS elementary school. Yes, there IS a stigma, I was in a school that wasn't a Title I school and wasn't anywhere near majority black, but the kids eating breakfast were almost always (I'm talking 99%) the black kids from low-income families. Everybody saw, everybody knew, both adults and children. Children can't help it that their parents are poor, and no, they don't need that stigma.

Food stamps only cover a portion of meal costs and assume that a child will receive school meals, it's not double dipping at all. And I think it's sickening that anybody would object to feeding children. We are talking about CHILDREN, who are unable to fend for themselves.

The breakfasts aren't lavish. They consist of either a small hot item, such as a biscuit or an egg sandwich, or cereal and milk. The kids that go there EAT, they are hungry, very little of it goes to waste.

If a child doesn't eat breakfast, it shows. By 9 am they are white-faced and nauseated due to low blood sugar, and can't focus on their work. I personally fed many children out of my own pocket, the ones from "good families" that didn't qualify for free breakfast, but didn't feed their kids breakfast in the mornings. You would be amazed at the number of kids that don't eat before school.

Just as some children always bring their lunch from home,and don't eat hot lunches, there will be kids who will eat breakfast at home.

Kids who are nourished have less health problems, both as children and as adults. And people can talk all they want to about "shouda, woulda, coulda", but the reality is that lots of children aren't eating breakfast. Why would anybody punish innocent children for their parents' failings? We are the wealthiest nation in the world, and kids are going hungry? Why?

Anonymous said...

Why do we have so many children who need to be fed at school?--apparently because their parents aren't capable of feeding them. I think everyone on this board understands that children need to be well nourished to thrive. But doesn't it seem to you that the more we do the more the needs increase? Somewhere along the line we missed the boat by allowing the idea to take root that a child's needs can be taken care of for "free" by the government. Note that this has been going on for generation after generation. Why haven't all of the government and civic programs made a difference? And don't talk about Europe's cradle to grave approach--remember, they are going broke!

Anonymous said...

I went to public school in the 60's and 70's. I can probably count on my fingers and toes the number of times I ate breakfast on a school day. I was from a lower middle-class family, just above the poverty level. I am sure there are hungry students, but I have trouble believing breakfast or its absence makes a big difference in academic performance. I was an honor graduate.

Anonymous said...

12:35 - Possibly if that parents did not spend their income on cigarettes and alcohol them their kids could get some fruit with cereal for breakfast. Instead of putting that hand out and playing the system they could raise their family. I choose to provide for my family and theirs as well by paying my taxes and working for a lifestyle I enjoy. Do I get a credit or voucher for doing that ? NOPE

Anonymous said...

12:15. How would you feel if your neighbor's kids came to your house 2-3 times per day asking to be fed? What if it were several neighbors' kids? Would you continue to feed them without question or would you finally say, I can't keep doing this? It's no different just because the 'taxpayers' are footing the bill.

Your question: "We are the wealthiest nation in the world, and kids are going hungry? Why?"
Because their parents aren't making their children their priority in most cases, that's why. My child would eat before I would. My child would eat before I had cable TV, a cell phone, a car, manicured nails, or any luxury outside of shelter and clothing.

I've volunteered at CMS schools as well, and I see plenty of FRL students whose parents spend their money on other things. They should be ashamed for not providing meals for their children and letting other things take priority.

Please provide a reference on your statement that food stamps assumes a child will receive school meals.

And how wisely are people using their food stamp budget? Not that wisely by what I see in the cart at the store.

Anonymous said...

As you say Ann, you "found several studies showing that students performed better on some tests, logged better attendance and appeared to be better behaved when they had breakfast." There are even MORE studies with those stats and better noting that starting high schools later in the morning (Like, um, not at 7:15am) improves academic performance, behavior, mental and physical health. Ann, you need to check into that.

Texas girl said...

Stigma? Do you think the recipients of free food, along with receiving other free things and services, are concerned about the Stigma? That's funny. There used to be a stigma about young, unwed mothers too. So much for that stigma, now over 50% of babies born in the US are born to unwed mothers. This program is a shame (sham) for many reasons.

Mamma Mia said...

The comments about changing the bus schedule now to accommodate breakfast and the other comment about all the studies that state the benefits of later high school start times are right on. CMS now thinks that free food at school is going to improve behavior, improve attendance and academic performance? Just changing the high school morning bell schedule will accomplish all that and more, and cost less money.

Ann Doss Helms said...

I'm an equal opportunity curmudgeon: I'm just as skeptical of the notion that changing school hours will make all students more successful as I am of the idea that breakfast (or any other easy fix) will do it. CMS tried it at a few high schools and got more bad results than good. That's not to say it's a bad idea. Like so many other things, it might be part of a package that would make students more successful.

Anonymous said...

Let's remove the stigma of free-or-reduced lunch and provide free lunch to all CMS students.

Wiley Coyote said...


Students who qualify for FRL would still have to apply for it since Title I funds are predicated on those numbers.

Also, FRL designated students get other free things as well.

NC has several school systems where all students eat for free regardless of ability to pay.

Detroit Public Schools has been doing this for several years.

Where has that gotten them?

Detroit Public Schools’ high school graduation rate increased five percentage points for 2012, bringing the rate to 64.74 percent, the highest rate since 2006, while closing the gap with statewide rates by greater than three percentage points. The district’s dropout rate also decreased by nearly a point to 19.38 percent.

Did free meals cause the 5 percentage point increase?

I would bet the nearly 20% dropout rate wasn't factored into the 64% graduation rate.

Mamma Mia said...

Ann, there are many studies that have shown a direct correlation to later high school start times and improved student behavior, mental and physical health and improved academic performance. Just think what another hour of sleep would do for our CMS teens?

I believe when they tried it before it was only for one year, at 3 low performing high schools. They started the schools at 8:45am. The problem was that the parents complained that their kids overslept and were late to school, because a parent wasn't at home to wake them up. What a joke. They should have the high schools start at either 8:15 or 8:30am. Easy solution and a win, win, win for students, parents and educators.

Anonymous said...

Will there be someone checking and recording how much food is thrown in the trash? Students are not allowed to order what they will actually eat for lunch (if you order this entrée, you have to have this item with it whether you eat it or not). I can imagine what breakfast will be like.

Also, where is the stigma when you are a 10 year old wearing $200 sneakers eating a free meal. Everyone's doing it.

Anonymous said...

Wiley, I'll bet your head is about to explode! (You're not alone!)

Anonymous said...

Wiley, you mentioned that Detroit's graduation rate was 65% and Dropout was 19%. It may be too late in the evening for me, but I'm wondering where the other 16% are? If they didn't graduate and they didn't drop out, where are they? 5th and 6th year high school students?

Wiley Coyote said...


It's the kind of math someone from CMS would have to decipher.

For what its worth said...

Clearly, times are different these days than when we of the baby boomers grew up. Most of us were poor by today's classifications. At best, our moms or dads had a job in a textile mill. The family pulled tobacco during the late summer. We understood the value of hard work, sacrificing, family, honest living, and on and on.

You can blame the underachievement of the poor these days on these "noble" politicians, community organizers, and others who are actually looking for their own fame. This stigma while may be viewed by some as an albatross is actually the effect of a drug/addiction stronger than crack. Once addicted to this "crack", there is no cure delivered by others. There is no ridding oneself of this albatross. There is no "being all you can be" until you learn to take control of your life, your decisions, your future, etc.

We all know how much fraud is in all these government programs. We all know you can not call it like it is because of the race card. We all know how the blacks manipulate the media. Has the media approached all these instigators of fraudulent black white clashes like the Duke lacrosse case? Has AL or Jesse been called on the carpet by the media? Of course not!

Wiley Coyote said...


I saw it coming.

Free lunch for all will be next.

CMS serves about 97,000 lunches per day. 75,000 get them free or reduced so it's just a small step to have a "free for all".

Anonymous said...

CMS has free after school care, FRL and now free breakfast. I mean how about you give smaller class sizes and a quality education to go along with that. Then we will be on to something.

Anonymous said...

Free breakfast - free cell phones - free cheese - free housing - free points on undone homework (50) - it goes on & on.
There is no free lunch - it all is paid for by someone. When it is paid for by someone, something else is not purchased.
And some wonder why we have a "jobless recovery"?

Anonymous said...

This is so great! Proud of CMS for taking a step in the right direction. Anyone against this does not realize the value of breakfast and kids success in schools.

Wiley Coyote said...


Can you explain the $2 BILLION dollars per year that kids throw away in the School Lunch Program?

Anyone who doesn't recognize this as a failure and total waste of food and money isn't living in the real world.

Anonymous said...

CMS, we have bigger problems if a parent can't give a child a bowl of cereal or a granola bar and a glass of juice every morning before they leave for school. And yes, it would make sense that a child would be able to focus and do better if have eaten something at 7am. But this is not the government's job or my job to feed your kids. I don't make a lot of money and have 4 kids, but I make sure they eat something on their way out the door. Can you say enabling?

Anonymous said...

Honestly, some of these comments are just awful for what they're really saying.

"It's abuse to have children in poverty." Yeah, that's a gem of a social statement right there. Yeah, it sucks people can't support themselves sometimes. So the solution is to criminalize a human behavior based solely on income? Sounds like a great government to me! Think of the wonderful legislative and legal doors that would be opened with shameful thoughts like that.

Or my favorites... the comments that basically conclude these kids are poor, are useless, will always be poor and useless and their parents are to blame. The parents are probably to blame. So screw it, all of those kids in public schools... screw them and their poor parents.

Either we accept the fact that people are sometimes lazy, sometimes irresponsible, sometimes downright criminal... and move on to the bigger issues like helping to raise a generation of smarter, healthier kids... or we just say "screw them, they don't have money and we don't like their parents" and be done with it.

Make a choice.

Anonymous said...

asking people to only have children that they can financially support is asking too much. personal responsibility is not required anymore because the government will provide everything you need because companies such as walmart( largest receiver of food stamps) jp morgan chase (administer the EBT card) make millions of dollars off of the backs of tax payers!

America said...

I love how a simple and wonderful program of providing each student with a full stomach, has turned into a debate about welfare programs.

Learn the facts people SNAP actually helps the U.S economy. For ever $5 in SNAP benefits it transfers to $9 in economic benefit for the country (jobs, agriculture infrastructure, etc.)

Also, it is the government's job to provide for the welfare of the general public. Have a heart and stop being so selfish.

Wiley Coyote said...


The SNAP program in 2011 had an estimated $753 MILLION dollars in fraud. The NSLP (National School Lunch Program) had $1.5 BILLION dollars in overpayments to people who did not qualify.

Your ROI numbers mean nothing because SNAP and the NSLP are tied to farm bills which automatically inflate the "return" due to government controls. That's the same thing that has been happening for decades with the government propping up sugar prices.

If this were a free market that would be terrible news for the US’s 5,000 or so beet and cane growers. But it’s not. In fact, the USDA just agreed to spend $38 million on buying sugar in order to prop up the prices. That’s adding a tax bill to a sugar aid program that already costs US consumers $3.5 billion each year, according to research by Iowa State University.

The same thing happens with corn, wheat and other commodities.

It's interesting that the 1996 passage of Clinton's welfare reform cut the number of people living off the government by requiring them to find work in order to get benefits, with the end result to get off benefits all together.

We've been fighting the war on poverty for decades, spending nearly $16 TRILLION, with little success.

There are those truly in need and we should give them a hand up, but those who game the system out of BILLIONS of dollars should be prosecuted.

Anonymous said...

This country is in decline.

Question said...

@11:48 why do you say that? The rich have never seen a more prosperous time.

Anonymous said...

$17 trillion in debt with no end in sight?

Anonymous said...

June 18, 2013 at 11:22 PM: Your reasoning is part of the problem. You do realize the government has no money of its own? It can only take it from those who pay in the form of taxes or it can borrow. It has done both to excess. If you feel so strongly about it, then get out your checkbook and write a check for several thousand dollars to CMS.

Read Wiley at June 19, 2013 at 1:09 AM for a sensible reaction to this situation.

America said...

@7:59 AM I don't understand what you mean by the government has no money of its own? That's not true. Also, taxes have been lowered at the federal and state levels nationwide. So, the notion that we have taxed people to excess is false. If we have the tax rate would be nearly 100% or atleast 90% at the top marginal tax bracket, like it used to be.

Also, I love how when we have discussions on the national debt, we always tend to take it out on the poor and oppressed in the nation. Any one ever shout and scream about our bloated defense budget? Corporate welfare? How about the billions in tax revenues dodged because of offshore bank accounts? Anyone, yeah not a word.

SNAP is not the problem for America's ills. Do some research and come back to me.

Anonymous said...

11:39. What do you mean by the government DOES have money of its own? That's not true. The government only gets money from taxes, fines, borrowing, etc. It collects from US to provide needed services for us that we cannot provide on our own. Highways, National Defense, etc. I'm not in favor of any the other items you have mentioned either.

America said...

@ 12:55PM Thank you for the clarification. I didn't mean the government has its "own" money. I understand that it collects money from taxes, fines, bonds, etc. I'm glad we can get a little consensus that there are other things that are growing our debt :)

By the way, I bet if the the commenters here grew up poor and had to rely on welfare, they wouldn't be the first ones shouting "CUT THE WELFARE STATE!" Its always the people who typically can't empathize with the poor and oppressed that are the first ones to want to make their lives harder than it already is. I don't mean to generalize, but its the truth. Don't take your anger out on the kids who are already in tough conditions by making their lives even harder. Then we scream about why there are so many homeless and unskilled workers in America.

Wiley Coyote said...


You did generalize.

I'm not against feeding anyone who truly needs it, but you, as a few others constantly do, blindly skip over facts about fraud and waste in these programs to the tune of billions of dollars.

You don't have anymore of a clue as to who truly qualifies than the Federal Government.

Anonymous said...

Such a joke. My kids eat at home and are on the A/A or A/B B honor role every quarter, every year since they started school (where grades are used). We are involved in our children's upbringing, that is the difference, not a free meail