HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania still lags behind most other states in providing school breakfasts to needy children because it does not require morning meals in schools where they are most needed, a nonprofit group that monitors the programs said yesterday.

The state ranks 41st in the percentage of children from low-income families who participate in the federally funded school breakfast program - 37 percent - according to a report by the Food Research and Action Center in Washington.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rendell proposed requiring breakfast in schools where low-income students account for at least 20 percent of total enrollment. Lawmakers kept the program optional under a package of budget bills that passed in July. Opponents in the legislature argued that Rendell's proposal was a burdensome mandate for local school districts.

Nearly 240 schools that do not offer breakfast would have been required to do so in the 2007-08 school year under Rendell's proposal. Only 87 of them have decided to do so voluntarily, according to the state Education Department.

- AP