As part of National School Breakfast Week, the Rise and Shine MA Coalition recently held a legislative lobby day at the State House in support of An Act regarding breakfast after the bell, legislation filed by Senator Sal DiDomenico (D—Everett) in the Senate and Representative Aaron Vega (D—Holyoke) and Representative Andy Vargas (D—Haverhill) in the House.
If implemented as proposed, this legislation would require more than 600 high-poverty Massachusetts schools to offer breakfast after bell — which includes alternative models for serving breakfast after the start of the school day (breakfast in the classroom, grab n’ go, second chance) — allowing them to overcome common barriers such as late bus arrivals and social stigma, as well as reduce hunger during morning classes.
As a key indicator for why this bill is needed, the 2019 School Breakfast Scorecard released by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) revealed that Massachusetts lags behind other states in school breakfast participation. Despite reaching 186,747 low-income children with school breakfast on a typical day in the 2017-2018 school year—a 2.3 percent increase from the prior school year— Massachusetts still remains ranked 33rd in the nation in school breakfast participation.
“Small progress is being made, but we still have a long way to go to ensure all low-income children in the state reap the many benefits of school breakfast: less hunger, better health, and improved educational outcomes,” said Catherine Drennan, Director of Communications and Public Affairs, The Greater Boston Food Bank, the organization who is leading a legislative campaign in support of the proposed legislation. “Today, only half of the low-income students who qualify for free and reduced-price school meals are accessing breakfast. This legislation aims to rapidly increase those numbers.”
Senator DiDomenico closed out the lobby day speaking program making the case for why this legislation is so critically needed for our Commonwealth’s high need schools. “No child who shows up to school hungry can possibly be ready to learn,” said DiDomenico. “I have seen the success of breakfast after the bell in my hometown of Everett, 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 towards boosting our school breakfast participation rates and helping all kids receive the nutrition they need to begin their days, ready to learn.”
Massachusetts already 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%— compared to 80-90% participation for free and reduced lunch. Consequently, children are showing up to school hungry and unprepared to learn. Moving 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. This is the second legislative session that Senator DiDomenico has filed An Act regarding breakfast after the bell. Last session, the Senate passed DiDomenico’s bill with a unanimous vote. Building off that momentum, the Senator plans to make this his top legislative priority this session.