The state Legislature recently passed legislation to fight childhood hunger and boost participation rates in breakfast programs in schools with high percentages of students from low-income families in the Commonwealth. 

Cindy FriedmanFriedman

sgarballey 19 4519Garballey

Dave RogersRogers

The bill, An Act regarding Breakfast After the Bell, would require all public K 12 schools with 60 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the federal National School Lunch Program to offer breakfast after the instructional day begins. The bill was signed into law shortly after.

“Students cannot focus and excel in the classroom if they are hungry,” said Sen. Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), in an Aug. 11 news release. “When children have access to nutritious meals, they are happier, healthier, and perform better at school. This bill continues the fight against food insecurity by ensuring that more students don’t have to struggle with hunger while at school. Thank you to my legislative colleagues for continually putting the health and well-being of our kids above all else.” 

Food insecurity

“Food insecurity impacts at least 1 in 9 children in Massachusetts. By expanding access to nutritional food options throughout the school day, we are responding to evidence that shows students are happier, perform better academically, and are much more focused and engaged in class when Breakfast after the Bell programs are implemented. This legislation will allow many more students to get better nutrition, have a productive school day, and I was happy to co-sponsor and vote for this important step forward," said Rep. Dave Rogers (D-Cambridge).

"Too many of our young students are facing food insecurity, with schools often providing meals that would otherwise not be had," said Rep. Sean Garballey (D-Arlington). "The best way to ensure future success is to start the day right, and a universal breakfast program will do just this. By taking away the opportunity for a meal to be skipped, our students will have the best chance of getting the most out of their education each day."   

Massachusetts currently requires all schools with high percentages of students from low-income families to provide breakfast to every eligible student. However, because breakfast is typically offered before the bell and in the cafeteria, participation levels are low—less than 40 percent—compared to 80 90 percent participation for free and reduced lunch. Moving breakfast from before the bell to after the bell is a proven strategy to boost breakfast participation and ensure that all students have the nutrition they need to start their day ready to learn.

This legislation would require schools across Massachusetts serving low-income students to offer breakfast after the start of the instructional day through a variety of delivery models, including breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go, and second-chance breakfast. This flexibility allows school districts to select the model that best fits their students’ needs.

As a federally reimbursed program, Breakfast After the Bell has the potential to provide up to $25 million statewide to Massachusetts school districts that increase participation rates to 80 percent and above. These payments are made directly to school nutrition departments, helping to support jobs, update kitchen equipment, and provide healthier menu options. 

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This news announcement was published Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. Kristin Gaffny, the writer, works for Sen. Friedman.