The Breakfast in the Classroom program may have some drawbacks for parents and school staffers, but the program has a great reputation among district administrators as a way not only to feed breakfast to more children (which has been linked to better test scores) but to bring in extra cash.
It's well known in the school food community that the money paid for each breakfast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (aided sometimes by additional state incentives) can exceed what it costs to procure and serve the meals, especially if a district qualifies as "severe need," with more than 40 percent of the children qualifying for free or reduced-price meals.
At schools such as Hawthorne Scholastic Academy, where more than 80 percent of the students do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals, USDA would reimburse Chicago Public Schools only 26 cents per classroom breakfast served to children who don't qualify.
In her January presentation to the school board on Breakfast in the Classroom, CPS food service chief Louise Esaian touted the blanket mandate as a way for the district, which routinely runs multimillion-dollar deficits on food service, to gain extra revenue.
USDA breakfast payments to the district exceed breakfasts costs by about a third, Esaian's presentation showed. She estimated that, at 65 percent participation, CPS would receive $59.6 million a year for a program that would cost $40.9 million to produce.
Esaian said later that the extra $18.7 million would go to pay "existing expenses."
— Monica Eng and Joel Hood