This week is National School Breakfast Week, five days dedicated to raising awareness about the health benefits of a school breakfast. With 1 in 8 children facing food insecurity in our Commonwealth, school breakfast serves as a lifeline for thousands of children and their families.
While Massachusetts is known as a national leader in public education, less than half of the children who qualify for school breakfast in low-income schools are starting their days fed and ready to learn.
According to a study released by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) last month, Massachusetts ranked 33rd in the nation for school breakfast participation during the 2017-18 school year. While Massachusetts already requires high-need schools to offer breakfast, this breakfast is typically offered before the start of the school day in the cafeteria. Due to these challenges and barriers to access, such as lack of transportation, late bus arrivals and social stigmas, breakfast participation levels are less than 40 percent, compared to 80-90 percent participation for free and reduced lunch.
The Greater Boston Food Bank leads the Rise and Shine Massachusetts coalition – a group of local, state, and federal, educational, healthcare, faith-based and hunger-relief organizations – in support of S.267 and H.591, “Acts Regarding Breakfast After the Bell.” Filed by Senator Sal DiDomencio (D-Everett) and Representatives Aaron Vega (D-Holyoke) and Andy Vargas (D-Haverhill), this legislation would require more than 600 high-poverty public schools to offer breakfast after the start of the school day, reducing hunger during morning classes.
On March 6, Massachusetts hunger advocates joined together at the Massachusetts State House for a legislative briefing and lobby day in support of Breakfast After the Bell legislation. Advocates fanned out across the State House to garner support from state legislators and deliver breakfast muffins from Springfield Public Schools’ brand new Culinary and Nutrition Center.
Senator Sal DiDomenico, Rep Vega and Rep Vargas spoke to our advocates in support of Breakfast After the Bell:
“No child who shows up to school hungry can possibly be ready to learn,” said state Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate and the Senate sponsor of the bill. “I have seen the success of breakfast after the bell in my own district, but we clearly have a lot of work to do to ensure that every child in the Commonwealth has access to a stigma-free breakfast. I am confident that this legislation will go a long way toward boosting our school breakfast participation rates and helping all kids receive the nutrition they need to begin their days, ready to learn.”
“Regardless of family income there should be, there needs to be, free and healthy food options for our children while they attend public schools. We recognize our mandate to feed those that are incarcerated with the State, and we don’t make some pay or work for their food. Why are we putting that kind of unnecessary burden and pressure on the youngest and most vulnerable among us,” said state Rep. Aaron Vega (D – Holyoke). “It is clear those students most affected by this food shaming are those already with food insecurities issues and other challenges that come with living in low income or poverty neighborhoods.”
In other states who have passed similar legislation, significant gains have been made in their national ranking. For example, after passing legislation in Washington, D.C., they moved from 20th to 1st in the nation in breakfast participation. After passing legislation in Colorado, they moved from 20th to 11th in the nation in participation.
By passing Breakfast After the Bell, Massachusetts will help ensure that every child in the Commonwealth begins their day with the nutrition they need in order to learn.