Thursday, July 30, 2020

Massachusetts Legislature Passes Breakfast After the Bell Legislation

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

“Research shows that students who eat a healthy breakfast get better grades, go to the nurse less frequently, and miss fewer days of school,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Yet, too often, missed meals equal missed opportunities for our children. As a state, we simply cannot accept hungry students as part of our reality. Students who don’t eat breakfast start every single day at a very real disadvantage to their peers; passing this bill into law ensures that students across the Commonwealth have equitable access to nutrition to ensure that they start every day right, ready to learn. I’d like to extend my deepest thanks to Senator DiDomenico for his tireless advocacy on this issue, and to Senate Education Chair Jason Lewis, Speaker DeLeo and our partners in the House for their work on this bill as well.”

“We know that a hungry student cannot learn,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “Children who have access to breakfast at school are healthier, happier, and perform better in the classroom. This bill also removes any potential stigma for students by making free breakfast a shared classroom activity. In keeping with the House’s ongoing commitment to prioritize children’s health and wellness, I’m proud to support this innovative school breakfast program. My thanks to House Education Chair Peisch, Representatives Vega and Vargas, stakeholders, Senate President Spilka and our colleagues in the Legislature for their advocacy on behalf of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children.”

"Access to healthy food is a vital need for all children. Under the agreed-upon provisions of this bill such access establishes healthier habits, allows for more consistent focus, and enables more fruitful growth and development," said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R- Gloucester).

“Food insecurity remains a serious issue for many students in Massachusetts, and the COVID-19 global pandemic has only added to this problem,” said House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading). “By implementing Breakfast After the Bell, we are taking proactive steps to make sure no student goes hungry and every student comes to school prepared to learn.”

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.

This bill now moves to the governor for his consideration.