The General Assembly on Thursday approved a three-bill package sponsored by Assembly Democrats to boost breakfast programs in schools, particularly for underprivileged children, in order to help give them a leg up on academics.
The package is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Joseph Cryan, Daniel Benson, Troy Singleton, Pamela Lampitt, Celeste Riley, Nancy Pinkin, Jason O’Donnell, Bob Andrzejczak, and Gilbert “Whip” Wilson.
The first bill (A-679/2186), sponsored by Cryan, Benson, Singleton, Lampitt, Riley and Pinkin, would require the state to make every effort to assist school districts and nonpublic schools in increasing the participation rate of students, particularly low-income students, in the federal School Breakfast Program by establishing a “breakfast after the bell” program in the first-period classroom or during the first few minutes of the day. The bill was approved by a vote of 72-1-4.
The Department of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Department of Education, would oversee the effort and also be charged with preparing and issuing an annual report to the governor and the legislature on the number and percentage of students participating in a school breakfast program, and the format used for providing breakfast.
“Currently, the vast majority of New Jersey school districts only serve breakfast to a fraction of eligible children,” said Cryan (D-Union). “With research showing that school breakfast increases attendance and decreases tardiness, improves academic performance both in class and on standardized tests, and improves attentiveness, we need to make it a priority.
“Studies show that providing school breakfast also reduces emotional and behavioral problems among students from all different backgrounds,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “By making sure more students have breakfast everyday, we can boost both their physical and mental well-being and increase their long-term chances for success.”
“According to experts, the percentage of students that participate in school breakfast increases when breakfast is served in the classroom after the start of school,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “If this simple change means a healthier head start for students, then we should do all we can to encourage it.”
“This change is key to increasing the participation rate of students from low-income families in the school breakfast program,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “It’s important that we make this program more accessible, particularly for students who are eligible and for some reason are not taking advantage of it.”
“As a mother and a teacher, I know how chaotic mornings can be and how hard it is for kids to get to school early,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “Making school breakfast available after the bell will ensure more students get the nutrition they need to start the day right.”
“New census data shows that the number of low-income New Jersey children has grown 19 percent in the past five years,” said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). “This means that more children are likely arriving in the classroom hungry, thereby affecting their overall performance. We need to make sure they’re all taking advantage of the programs afforded to them to get a head start.”
The third annual New Jersey School Breakfast Report put out by the Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) identifies “breakfast after the bell” as an effective and successful approach to significantly boost student participation in the federal school breakfast program. According to the report, if New Jersey schools fed all eligible children, schools would receive an estimated $85 million more in federal funds to feed hungry children.
The second bill (A-1796), sponsored by O’Donnell and Cryan, provides that if a public school student’s school breakfast or lunch bill is in arrears, the district must contact the student’s parent or guardian to provide notice of the outstanding bill and provide a period of 10 school days to pay the amount due. The bill was approved by a vote of 77-0.
If the parent or guardian does not make full payment by the end of the 10 school days, the district is to then provide a second notice that school breakfast or school lunch will not be served beginning one week from the date of the second notice unless payment is made in full.
“This bill will help ensure that a student is not suddenly denied a school breakfast or lunch because the district determines that the student’s food bill is in arrears,” said O’Donnell (D-Hudson). “In order to put the student’s best interests first, we need to take a compassionate, yet practical, approach when it comes this sensitive issue.”
The third bill (A-2644), sponsored by Andrzejczak and Wilson, directs the state Agriculture Department, in consultation with the Education and Health Departments, to develop and establish a website to serve as a clearinghouse for farmers to provide produce and dairy products to school breakfast, school lunch programs and food banks throughout the state. The bill was approved by a vote of 77-0.
“This bill creates a win-win for everyone,” said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland), Chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee. “Farmers will have a direct outlet to boost the sale of their produce and products and our students will have fresher, home-grown food as part of their daily lunch and breakfast.”
“The intent of this bill is to create a website similar to existing ‘for sale by owner’ websites,” said Wilson (D-Camden/Gloucester). “In doing so, we can provide a forum for farmers with produce and dairy products to connect with any school or district with a need for produce or dairy products for its school breakfast or lunch program.”
The bill package now head to the Senate for consideration.