TRENTON — Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley Turner that would require the state to make serious efforts to boost participation in breakfast programs at schools was approved by the Senate on Monday with a vote of 38 – 0.
The bill, S-1897/A-679/, seeks to increase enrollment in the federal School Breakfast Program by establishing the “Breakfast After the Bell” program in the first period or during the first few minutes of each school day. All school districts would be allowed to participate in the program, not just those that serve poorer populations. School districts now must offer breakfast if 20 percent or more of their students qualify for free or reduced meals under the federal School Lunch Program, and many districts are reportedly weary of participating in the current breakfast program because of unfounded fears of being branded as a low-income district.
Advocates and school leaders say changing the time breakfast is served would also help erase the unfair stigma that is sometimes associated with coming in early to eat. Advocates for Children of New Jersey, for example, estimates that only 30 percent of eligible students in Mercer County received breakfast in April of last year.
“Research consistently shows that when students eat a healthy breakfast they are more productive and perform better at school,” said Turner (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “Currently, we have too many students who are eligible to receive breakfast but who are not participating in this worthwhile program, and this bill is a great step in closing that gap.”
The Advocates for Children of New Jersey estimate that more than 300,000 children across the state are missing breakfast. Also, the organization says the number of low-income children has swelled by 19 percent in the past five years, which means too many children are going to school hungry.
The state would be required to provide annual reports to the Legislature on participation rates in the program.
The bill was already approved by the Assembly. It now goes to the governor.