Last week, the Massachusetts Legislature overwhelmingly passed Senator Sal DiDomenico’s bill to fight childhood hunger and boost participation rates in school breakfast programs in schools with high percentages of students from low-income families in the Commonwealth, which was signed into law this week by Gov. Charlie Baker.
The bill, An Act regarding breakfast after the bell, would require all public K12 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.
Senator DiDomenico has been a longtime champion of anti-hunger policies in the Massachusetts Senate and has sponsored this Breakfast After the Bell bill for the past two legislative sessions. Earlier in the year, he was the recipient of the 2020 Breakfast Hero Award from the national anti-hunger campaign No Kid Hungry for his advocacy on Breakfast After the Bell and his work to end childhood hunger in the Commonwealth. This legislation is the culmination of many years work and advocacy by Senator DiDomenico, his staff, and food security advocates from across the state.
“As childhood hunger rates continue to spike due to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, it has never been more important to increase our school breakfast participation rates and provide our students with the nutrition they need to start their day ready to learn,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico, the Senate sponsor of the bill. “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 every child in the Commonwealth has access to a stigma-free and nutritious breakfast. Thank you to Senate President Spilka and Speaker DeLeo for making Breakfast After the Bell a legislative priority, as well as my partners Representative Vega, Representative Vargas, and the Rise and Shine Coalition for their tireless advocacy on this legislation.”
“Research shows that students who eat a healthy breakfast get better grades, go to the nurse less frequently, and miss fewer days of school,” said Senate President Karen Spilka. “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; passing this bill into law ensures that students across the Commonwealth have equitable access to nutrition to ensure that they start every day right, ready to learn. I’d like to extend my deepest thanks to Senator DiDomenico for his tireless advocacy on this issue, and to Senate Education Chair Jason Lewis, Speaker DeLeo and our partners in the House for their work on this bill as well.”
“When we first began advocating for this bill, 1 in 9 children in Massachusetts faced food insecurity and nearly 150,000 low income students were not accessing school breakfast. Today, 1 in 5 children is at risk of food insecurity, so now more than ever many more families will likely benefit from school meals,” said Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of The Greater Boston Food Bank, which led the statewide Rise and Shine Massachusetts coalition. “Passing this bill was a team effort by more than fifty organizations and school stakeholders across the state in coordination with our legislative champions. The Breakfast After the Bell legislation will help us move to a more equitable public education system, one in which all students get the nutrition they need to succeed for years to come.”
“The COVID-19 crisis and resulting increase in food insecurity highlight the importance of child nutrition programs, such as school breakfast,” said Erin McAleer, President of Project Bread. “Project Bread stands ready to support schools and districts in implementation of this legislation, working hand-in-hand to provide the most successful school breakfast program possible. We are grateful to the legislature for their overwhelming support of Breakfast After the Bell, and especially to Senator DiDomenico and House sponsors, Representatives Vargas and Vega, for their commitment to ensuring that more Massachusetts students can start the school day with the nutrition they need to learn and thrive.”
Massachusetts currently requires all schools with high percentages of students from low-income families to provide breakfast to every eligible student. However, because breakfast is typically offered before the bell and in the cafeteria, participation levels are low—less than 40 percent—compared to 8090 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 and ensure that all students have the nutrition they need to start their day ready to learn.
This legislation would require schools across Massachusetts serving low-income students to offer breakfast after the start of the instructional day 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 $25 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.
Gov. Baker signed the bill into law this week.