Senate Passes Breakfast After the Bell Legislation

Press release from the Senate President’s Office:

BOSTON– On Thursday, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation to fight childhood hunger and boost participation rates in school breakfast programs in the Commonwealth’s high-poverty schools. The bill, An Act regarding breakfast after the bell (S.2460), would require all public K-12 schools with 60 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the federal National School Lunch Program to offer breakfast after the instructional day begins.

“There’s truth to the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day—research shows that students who eat a healthy breakfast to start the day get better grades, go to the nurse less frequently, and miss fewer days of school, said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Yet, too often, missed meals equal missed opportunities for our children. As a state, we simply cannot accept hungry students as part of our reality. Students who don’t eat breakfast start every single day at a very real disadvantage to their peers; this legislation ensures that students across the Commonwealth have equitable access to nutrition to ensure that they start every day right, ready to learn.”

“No child who shows up to school hungry can possibly be ready to learn,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), the lead sponsor of the bill. “I have seen the success of breakfast after the bell in my own district, and I am confident that this legislation will help to ensure that every child in the Commonwealth has access to a stigma-free and nutritious breakfast. Thank you to Senate President Karen Spilka for her commitment to making this a priority for the Massachusetts Senate and the Rise and Shine Coalition for their dedicated advocacy and tireless work to ensure that all children of the Commonwealth are able to start their days ready to learn.”

“We all understand that a hungry student is not ready to be a successful student, and Breakfast After the Bell is a proven strategy to close the hunger gap and ensure that all kids can start their school day on a level playing field,” said Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “As the Commonwealth continues to strive for an excellent and equitable educational experience for every child, regardless of their ZIP code or family income, this is an important step along the road to closing opportunity and achievement gaps in our schools.”

“Healthy food and the opportunity to be nourished are elemental needs and our school children who lack this access, and it is sadly a surprisingly high number who do, will be far better able to function and focus on academics and healthy lifelong habits under the provisions of this bill,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R- Gloucester).  “The Senate’s actions will help school districts to better leverage both federal and private funds and ultimately change lives for the better.”

“We have spent the last two years building a strong coalition of support, which includes school stakeholders, hunger advocates and legislators,” said Catherine D’Amato, CEO at The Greater Boston Food Bank, which leads the Rise and Shine Massachusetts coalition. “This is the moment we have been waiting for and we are looking forward to passing a bill that will assist with increasing access to school breakfast to over 150,000 low-income students across Massachusetts.”

Massachusetts currently requires all high-poverty schools to provide breakfast to every eligible student. However, because breakfast is typically offered before the bell and in the cafeteria, participation levels are low— at less than 40 percent— compared to 80-90 percent participation for free and reduced lunch. Moving breakfast from before the bell to after the bell is a proven strategy to boost breakfast participation to ensure that all students have the nutrition they need to start their day ready to learn.

This legislation would require approximately 600 Massachusetts schools serving low-income students to offer breakfast after the tardy bell through a variety of delivery models, including breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go, and second-chance breakfast. This flexibility allows school districts to select the model that best fits their students’ needs

As a federally reimbursed program, Breakfast After the Bell has the potential to provide up to $30 million statewide to Massachusetts school districts that increase participation rates to 80 percent and above. These payments are made directly to school nutrition departments, helping to support jobs, update kitchen equipment, and provide healthier menu options.

Now that the Senate has passed its version, it will move to reconcile the legislation with a similar version that passed the House of Representatives.

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