BOSTON- Today, Governor Baker signed legislation into law to alleviate childhood hunger and ensure more kids start school with a healthy breakfast, making Massachusetts the 13th state in the nation to pass such a law. An Act regarding breakfast after the bell, will require all high-poverty K-12 Massachusetts public schools to offer breakfast after the instructional day begins. Rise and Shine Massachusetts, a statewide coalition led by The Greater Boston Food Bank, comprised of over fifty state and national school and organizational stakeholders, was instrumental in advocating for the bill for the last three and a half years.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was estimated that expanding the window for school breakfast would increase access and decrease food insecurity for approximately 150,000 children across the Commonwealth. With an estimated 81% increase in food insecurity among children due to COVID-19, more children are likely to qualify for the school breakfast program and will benefit from this bill.
“As childhood hunger rates continue to spike due to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, it has never been more important to provide our students with the nutrition they need to start their day ready to learn. I have seen the success of breakfast after the bell in my own community, and I am confident that this policy will help to ensure that every child in the Commonwealth has access to a stigma-free and nutritious breakfast. Thank you to Governor Baker, and my partners Representative Vega, Representative Vargas, and the Rise and Shine Coalition for their tireless advocacy and assistance in getting this bill done,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), Senate bill sponsor.
Breakfast After the Bell legislation was originally introduced in 2017, and after some initial success, it was refiled for the new legislative session in January 2019. Both the House and the Senate unanimously passed the bill earlier in this legislative session in November 2019 (H 4218) and January 2020 (S 2473), respectively. As the COVID-19 crisis disrupted schools across the Commonwealth and threatens to delay or upend the upcoming school year as well, the Legislature agreed to build in flexibility for schools and districts grappling with a new normal this fall. The reporting and implementation dates were adjusted and designed to allow for ample time for schools to deal with the challenges they face this year, yet will set schools up for .success in years to come.
“The excitement of passing this bill is a high point of my legislative work. It turned to concern quickly as COVID-19 hit the Commonwealth and the legislature shifted into dealing with the pandemic mode and our bill had to wait. Now with this final passage, we know our hard work and steadfast advocacy for children to simply get access to eat breakfast has paid off,” said Representative Aaron Vega (D-5th Hampden), House bill sponsor. “It has been an honor working with my friends and colleagues, Representative Vargas, Senator DiDomenico and his staff, all the amazing advocates on this bill, and my own school district which had implemented breakfast after the bell well before we passed the law because it was the right thing to do.”
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 times less than 10%— compared to 80-90% participation for free and reduced-price lunch. Consequently, children show 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, ensuring all students are fed and ready to learn every day.
“I’m thrilled that Massachusetts has finally passed this critical bill, thanks to the efforts of the Rise and Shine Massachusetts coalition and my partners, Representative Vega and Senator DiDomenico. In many ways, breakfast after the bell makes even more sense now. There are more families and students and need. School districts are being asked to limit cafeteria use to prevent the virus from spreading. Districts are short on revenue. Breakfast after the bell speaks to all of these concerns and I look forward to its implementation and outcomes for educational equity,” said Representative Andy Vargas (D-3rd Essex)
As schools reopen and decide how best to keep students and staff safe, Breakfast After the Bell will have to be part of the equation, as large groups of children eating in a cafeteria cannot happen safely. 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.
“The success of this legislative campaign must be attributed to the collaborative nature of the Rise and Shine Massachusetts coalition which has worked for years alongside the Legislature to get this done,” said Catherine D’Amato, CEO of The Greater Boston Food Bank who led the coalition. “The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout has disproportionately impacted poorer communities and communities of color – communities that experience the greatest gap between what support is needed and the support they receive. Breakfast After the Bell will break down barriers to accessing food, which perpetuates the achievement gap, and help us move to a more equitable public education system, one in which all students get the nutrition they need to succeed.”
Breakfast After the Bell makes good financial sense as well. A federally reimbursed program, the National School Breakfast Program has the potential to leverage up to $25 million into Massachusetts school nutrition departments, helping to support jobs, update kitchen equipment, and provide healthier menu options.
“This law dramatically expands our ability to efficiently reach students in low-income communities and provide immediate relief in the form of both a nutritious meal to fuel learning for the day, as well as relieving the household grocery budget to help families afford other living expenses,” said Erin McAleer, President at Project Bread. “We applaud the Massachusetts Legislature for recognizing and addressing childhood hunger as a priority issue and we look forward to partnering with teachers, school administrators and DESE to successfully implement this new support for students.” Now that the bill has been signed by Governor Baker, Massachusetts will join several other states in ensuring students have access to school breakfast. The bill will not go into effect until school year 2022-2023. Key stakeholders including Project Bread’s Child Nutrition Outreach Program (CNOP), and the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), will be instrumental in providing technical assistance and guidance to schools as they navigate their new normal.
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.