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Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer) testifies during today’s Senate voting session.

TRENTON — Senator Shirley K. Turner plans to introduce legislation Monday to require the state to make greater efforts to boost participation in breakfast programs at schools, particularly for poorer districts.

The bill would seek 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. The state would be required to provide annual reports to the Legislature on participation rates in the program.

“Currently, there are too few eligible school children in our poorest school districts participating in school breakfast programs,” said Turner (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “Research has consistently shown that a healthy breakfast boosts attendance, improves academic performance and student effectiveness.”

The Advocates for Children of New Jersey estimate that approximately 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.

Despite these alarming figures, many districts are reportedly weary of participating in the breakfast program because of unfounded fears of being stigmatized as a low-income district. For example, the Advocates for Children of New Jersey estimates only 30 percent of eligible students in MercerCounty received breakfast in April of last year.

“The first job for a school district is to give students the best education possible and the best opportunity to become a contributing member of society,” Turner said. “Studies show something as simple as eating breakfast helps academic achievement; therefore, we have a moral responsibility to make sure we are doing all we can to help students succeed.”