Federal officials are patting themselves on the back for increasing dependence on the national school breakfast program, citing explosive growth with free meals in particular.

Data released by the Economic Research Service shows the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s School Breakfast Program currently serves about 13.5 million students in about 90,000 schools nationwide, statistics that have more than doubled since 1996.

“Throughout the history of the School Breakfast Program, the number of participating children was considerably smaller than in the National School Lunch Program and is still less than half. Nevertheless, as the breakfast program finding increased – and grants to schools to help start up the program became more available – the number of schools participating in the breakfast program has steadily grown, making it available to more students,” according to a USDA blog.

The ERS data is displayed in a “Charts of Note” series that highlights research on food assistance and other topics, and was undoubtedly chosen because of the striking exponential rise in free and total lunches served to students since the program was founded in 1975.

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