The Senate Education Committee today approved a bill that will require high-poverty schools to serve breakfast after the bell. This has the potential to ensure about 150,000 more kids receive that all-important morning meal.
Thanks to all our education advocates and other supporters who helped to get this bill past the first legislative hurdle.
Educators and parents from Paterson, Union City, Egg Harbor City and Bound Brook told their breakfast success stories — and the tremendous impact that breakfast after the bell is having on their students’ academic achievement.
Thanks also go to our NJ Food for Thought Coalition partners — New Jersey School Boards Association, New Jersey Association of School Administrators, New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, New Jersey PTA and New Jersey School Nutrition Association for their support.
And last, thanks to Senator Teresa Ruiz, committee chair and bill sponsor and Sen. Shirley Turner, co-sponsor for their leadership, as well as Committee Members James Beach, Robert M. Gordon and Samuel Thompson for their support.
Joint Testimony Adele LaTourette, director, New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, Cecilia Zalkind, president & CEO, Advocates for Children of New Jersey.
Good morning Chairwoman Ruiz and members of the committee. Thank you for addressing the critical issue of childhood hunger and for allowing Advocates for Children of New Jersey and the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition to express our strong support of S-1894.
Nearly 300,000 New Jersey children suffer from hunger each year and almost 540,000 students live in families that struggle to make ends meet and who are enrolled in the federal-funded School Breakfast Program.
School breakfast is one of the most effective ways to fight childhood hunger and ensure that all children begin their day with the nutrition they need to concentrate and learn.
Unfortunately, after years of making significant gains on school breakfast, New Jersey is now headed in the wrong direction.
From April 2016 to October 2017, New Jersey schools served breakfast to 4 percent fewer low-income students – a decline of nearly 10,600 students, according to Advocates for Children of New Jersey’s (ACNJ) analysis of state data.
The issue is NOT enrollment. Children are already enrolled and eligible for this federally-funded child nutrition.
The issue is NOT money. In high-poverty schools, federal per-meal reimbursements cover the cost of school breakfast, while pumping additional funds into school meals programs to build kitchens, upgrade cafeterias, buy new equipment, hire staff and improve the food schools serve to all students. In fact, when this legislation is enacted, it has the potential to bring an additional $43 million dollars in federal funds into our schools to feed hungry children.
The issue is when breakfast is served.
Serving breakfast before school causes extremely low student participation for the simple reason that students have not yet arrived at school.
Making breakfast part of the school day – just like lunch – is the only effective way to deliver the meal to the hundreds of thousands of New Jersey children who need this morning nutrition to be focused and ready to learn.
Ample evidence of the effectiveness of breakfast after the bell exists in districts across New Jersey. Districts that have switched from offering breakfast before school to serving breakfast after the bell report the same results. Participation soars. Students are ready to concentrate and learn. There are fewer trips to the school nurse, fewer classroom disruptions. Attendance improves.
And, millions more in federal dollars flow into schools to combat childhood hunger, removing a major barrier to learning, while improving the quality of food all students eat in school.
Sadly, too many districts have not embraced this approach to school breakfast and this continues to have negative consequences for eligible children who lack access to breakfast in their schools.
Frequently, school administrators cite clean-up, lost instructional time and other implementation issues. The truth is, these issues can be addressed – with a strong will and strong leadership. There’s plenty of proof of that in schools across New Jersey.
When enacted, this legislation will benefit students in an estimated 501 schools that educate more than 308,000 students. In these schools, an average of nearly 90 percent of students are eligible to receive free or low-cost school breakfast.
Yet just over half actually receive breakfast. That means that almost 150,000 students in these schools are missing out on this morning meal – and schools are failing to claim tens of millions in federal dollars that could be used to combat childhood hunger.
It is rare that a solution to a problem exists that not only does not cost state taxpayer dollars but actually brings more money into the state. Clearly, it is time for school leaders at high-poverty schools to serve breakfast at a time and in a way that allows all students to benefit from the nutrition they need to concentrate, learn and achieve academic success.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify.
For more information, please visit www.njschoolbreakfast.org.