By Bob Katzen
The House 158-0, approved a bill designed to boost participation rates in school breakfast programs in high-poverty schools. The measure would require that breakfast be offered only after the school day begins, through a variety of ways including breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go and second-chance breakfast. Currently, only 150,000 of the 300,000 students eligible for breakfast actually take part in it. The Senate approved the measure on a voice vote without a roll call and sent it to Gov. Baker.
Supporters said that most school breakfasts are currently offered in the cafeteria before the bell and the participation rate is less than 40 percent of eligible students because bus schedules and family obligations often result in the student not being able to arrive at school in time for breakfast. Participation is also low because of the stigma attached to the program. They said many students assume that everyone who arrives to school early for breakfast is from a poor family. The participation rate rises to up to 90 percent of eligible students participating in the lunch program later in the day.
“Pre-pandemic, this bill made a lot of sense,” said Rep. Andy Vargas (D-Haverhill), co-sponsor of the bill. “In many ways, breakfast after the bell makes even more sense now. There are more families and students and need. School districts are being asked to limit cafeteria use to prevent the virus from spreading. Districts are short on revenue. Breakfast after the bell speaks to all of these concerns and I look forward to its implementation and outcomes for educational equity.”
“Ensuring breakfast access to all children who need it in our public schools was a priority pre-COVID-19 and is now more important than ever,” said the measure’s co-sponsor Rep. Aaron Vega (D-Holyoke). “Many districts have already implemented Breakfast After the Bell, including Holyoke, and are seeing the positive impact on school attendance, classroom engagement and a reduction in nurse visits.”
“Studies show that something as simple as eating a healthy breakfast significantly improves student performance throughout the school day,” said House Education Committee Chair Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley). “This bill will bolster participation in school breakfast programs across the commonwealth by allowing students to access this critical meal after the day begins, breaking down barriers associated with traditional breakfast programs such as lack of early transportation to school and associated social stigma.”