(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Joseph Cryan, Daniel Benson, Troy Singleton, Pamela Lampitt, Celeste Riley, Nancy Pinkin to boost breakfast programs in schools, particularly for underprivileged children, in order to help give them a leg up on academics advanced in the Senate on Monday.
The bill (A-679) 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 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 measure was released by the Senate Education Committee. The Assembly approved the bill 72-1-4 in March.