Everyone agrees that children need to start their school day with a full stomach. After years of being nearly last in the nation for its participation in the federal School Breakfast Program, New Jersey is showing strong improvements. This year, the state moved to 28th nationally, compared to its previous ranking of 46th for student participation in this critical child nutrition program.
In fact, New Jersey achieved the greatest rise in the nation in the percent of low-income students eating breakfast at school, increasing nearly 13 percent from the 2012-13 to the 2013-14 school years, according to a national report by the Food Research and Action Center.
This progress is the result of a growing number of New Jersey districts switching to serving "breakfast after the bell," rather than before school, when most students have not yet arrived. This approach, typically done in the classroom during the first few minutes of the school day, significantly boosts participation, giving more kids the nutritious start to the school day that can help them concentrate and learn.Since the program is federally funded, most districts with high concentrations of low-income children can feed all students at little or no extra cost, significantly leveraging the considerable investment New Jersey makes in public education.
The NJ Food for Thought Campaign, launched in 2011, has been instrumental in convincing school officials to change the way they serve breakfast. The campaign is a partnership among New Jersey anti-hunger, education and health organizations, state agencies and child advocates. The Food Research Action Center, the American Dairy Association and Council and the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Council are the campaign's national partners.
Since the start of the campaign, the number of low-income children receiving school breakfast has jumped 59 percent, according to NJ Kids Count data. Despite this progress, New Jersey has about 300,000 low-income students who are still missing out on breakfast.
With growing poverty and hunger, school breakfast is one of the most effective anti-hunger programs available. Not only can schools feed hungry children, they can also bring more federal dollars to local schools to ensure that every child has a healthy breakfast each school day.
According to the 4th annual NJ School Breakfast Report, produced by Advocates for Children of New Jersey, about 50 high-poverty school districts are still feeding 30 percent or fewer eligible students. Despite the progress we have made in recent years, there are still approximately 300,000 hungry children in our schools who should be getting school breakfast. These "school breakfast underachievers" need a little extra push to implement the common sense "breakfast after the bell" approach and the State budget can provide that incentive. By reinstating the ten cents (10⊄) per meal breakfast supplement for school breakfasts, the state can remove the fiscal constraints for schools to serve these needed meals in the classroom.
A small investment can draw down many more millions in federal money and help to give all New Jersey children a better chance for school success. Our children need to know that their hunger is a priority... put the money where it should be.
By Adele LaTourette, Director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition
For more info, visit New Jersey Food For Thought School Breakfast Campaign.