by Kathleen McKiernan
April 1, 2017
When it comes to feeding disadvantaged kids a morning meal in the classroom, the Bay State ranks near thebottom nationally — a statistic that is fueling a push on Beacon Hill to require hundreds of schools in low-income neighborhoods to provide breakfast after the bell.
“For a lot of kids, the last meal they had was the lunch they had the previous day,” state Sen. Sal N. DiDomenico told the Herald yesterday. “This is a commonsense approach to helping kids get their first meal of the day.” The Everett Democrat and state Rep. Aaron Vega (D-Holyoke) are pushing legislation aimed at requiring high-poverty schools — where 60 percent or more of the students are receiving free or reduced lunch — to also provide their kids with breakfast in the classroom. The program would affect some 260,000 students in 600 schools, proponents say.
Massachusetts ranks 47th among states that provide breakfast at qualifying schools that are already serving free lunch, according to a report issued in February by the Food Research and Action Center. And though thestate already requires high-poverty schools to offer students breakfast, the newly proposed legislation would move the meal from the cafeteria before the bell to the classroom after the school day has begun. About 40 districts statewide already offer breakfast in the classroom after the opening bell, including Boston, Brockton, Greenfield, Chicopee, Worcester, Taunton and Salem.
About 90 percent of students in high-poverty schools receive free or reduced school lunch, but less than 40 percent eat school breakfast — a disconnect that lawmakers say highlights the fact that the state is not using the $25 million or more in U.S. Department of Agriculture reimbursement money.
And despite finding that Massachusetts ranks poorly when it comes to serving low-income kids breakfastoverall, the state did see a 15 percent spike in school breakfast participation rates — an increase that Crystal FitzSimons, FRAC’s director of school and out-of-school time programs, called a promising sign.
“Massachusetts is moving in the right direction, but it is still lagging behind the national average of 56 low-income kids eating breakfast for every 100 who participate in lunch,” FitzSimons said.
“We know that the traditional school breakfast model doesn’t serve kids very well. Most schools provide breakfast before school starts. Making breakfast part of the school day and allowing kids to eat in theclassroom eliminates any barriers,” said FitzSimons.
Proponents of the legislation say serving breakfast after the bell helps to increase attendance rates, close the achievement gap and bring in more federal nutrition money. Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., have already enacted legislation requiring high-need schools to provide breakfast after the bell. An Illinois measure is expected to go into effect next school year and state lawmakers in Maine and Washington are also mulling legislation, according to FRAC.
The proposal has the backing of the Food Bank Coalition of Massachusetts, which is preparing to launch a statewide campaign to raise awareness.
“The opportunity is there,” Greater Boston Food Bank CEO Catherine D’Amato said. “It makes sense that Massachusetts should be utilizing this federal entitlement program.”