An advocacy group for the poor would like state education leaders to require that all school districts provide breakfast for students. Such a move would help alleviate problems identified in a recent study that showed one in four Utah children is undernourished.
However, a spokesman for the State Office of Education said school meals - both breakfast and lunch - are the prerogative of local school boards and it is not likely the state will develop a breakfast mandate."All meals at school are optional. It's up to local school boards to decide if they want them," said Deputy State Superintendent Scott W. Bean.
The Utah Coalition to End Childhood Hunger sent a letter to State Superintendent Jay B. Taggart outlining the problem (an estimated 50,000 Utah children hungry and another 64,000 at risk of hunger) and asking that he encourage the State Board of Education to mandate school breakfasts.
It was signed by representatives of 15 government and private groups concerned with children's welfare.
The release of the national report has "generated a high level of concern in Utah," said Steve Johnson, spokesman for Utahns Against Hunger, a member of the coalition. Only 17 percent of Utah's schools offer breakfast for students, compared with a national figure of 40 percent, he said.
In 605 of Utah's 702 public schools and special education programs, breakfasts are not served, said the letter.
"There is no reason that school breakfast cannot be made available to all Utah students," the letter said. Taggart was reminded of a recent talk he gave in the Hinckley Institute of Politics in which he noted that children who are hungry do not learn well.
The coalition asks that Taggart, "administratively or by action of the State Board (of Education) initiate a policy to expand school breakfast for all public schools in Utah." In particular, schools with significant numbers of students in low-income families should be required to provide breakfast, the letter said.
National studies show that children who eat two meals a day at school are less hungry and that they have better attendance and academic performance than children who are chronically hungry.
Eleven states have mandated breakfast programs, either for all schools or for those meeting certain poverty guidelines.
The coalition said that if the school board does not respond to the request, its next step will be to take the issue to the Utah Legislature.