BOSTON – Nov. 20, 2019 – Today, the Massachusetts House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation to fight childhood hunger and ensure more kids start their school day with a healthy breakfast in the Commonwealth’s highest poverty schools. House Bill 4218, An Act regarding breakfast after the bell, would require all high-poverty K-12 public schools to offer breakfast after the instructional day begins. Expanding the window for school breakfast would increase food access and decrease food insecurity for approximately 150,000 children across the Commonwealth.
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 10%— compared to 80-90% participation for free and reduced lunch. Consequently, children are showing up to school hungry and unprepared to learn. Expanding breakfast from before the bell to after the bell is a proven, simple, and effective strategy to boost breakfast participation in an effort to ensure that all students are fed and show up ready to learn every day.
“I have long supported the Breakfast After the Bell program because I have seen the positive impact it has had in my schools for all our students. We know the stories of food insecurity in communities like Holyoke and we know this bill will start to address these issues,” said Representative Aaron Vega (D-5th Hampden). “What is often overlooked is how breakfast after the bell creates community within our schools, sharing a meal to start the day, to have that time for teachers to check in with each student as they eat and prepare for the lessons of the day.”
“As Massachusetts works towards closing achievement gaps, student nutrition plays a vital role. Breakfast participation doubled, from 42 to 85%, in one Haverhill school after it implemented Breakfast After the Bell,” said Representative Andy Vargas (D-3rd Essex). “This program produces results that close achievement and opportunity gaps. Kids who consistently eat breakfast see improvements in academic scores, improved physical and mental health, better school attendance, higher graduation rates, and even better earning potential as adults. This legislation is a no brainer. This bill makes educational, fiscal and moral sense. Feed our kids!”
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.
“We have spent the last several years building a strong coalition of support, which includes school stakeholders, hunger advocates and legislators,” said Catherine Drennan, director of communications and public affairs at The Greater Boston Food Bank on behalf of Rise and Shine Massachusetts, a statewide coalition working to pass the legislation. “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.”
On the heels of the Student Opportunity Act’s investment of $1.5 billion into our state’s education system, this school breakfast bill will increase school’s bottom line as well. As a federally reimbursed program, Breakfast After the Bell has the potential to provide up to $25 million statewide to Massachusetts school districts that increase participation rates to 80% and above. These payments are made directly to school nutrition departments, helping to support jobs, update kitchen equipment, and provide healthier menu options.
Breakfast After the Bell legislation is also currently being considered in the Massachusetts Senate. Senate Bill 267 was filed by Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) and is similar to a bill that the Senate passed unanimously during the previous (190th) legislative session.
About Rise and Shine Massachusetts
Rise and Shine Massachusetts, led by The Greater Boston Food Bank, is a statewide coalition of over fifty hunger-relief and education organizations advocating for state legislation that increases equitable access and participation in school breakfast for thousands of low-income children across our Commonwealth. To learn more, visit www.riseandshinema.org.