Victory! MA Legislature Enacts Breakfast After the Bell!
Today, Massachusetts achieved a major victory in alleviating childhood hunger!
Breakfast After the Bell legislation which will ensure more kids start school with a healthy breakfast was enacted by the Massachusetts Legislature and is going to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
An Act regarding breakfast after the bell, would require all high-poverty K-12 Massachusetts public schools to offer breakfast after the instructional day begins. 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.
The Rise and Shine Massachusetts Coalition, led by The Greater Boston Food Bank, is a statewide coalition of over fifty hunger-relief and education organizations advocating for this state legislation that increases equitable access and participation in school breakfast for thousands of low-income children across our Commonwealth. The partnership between so many different stakeholders has been a success story in organizing and advocating for a common goal across the state.
Rise and Shine Massachusetts is so grateful to our bill sponsors and breakfast champions, Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), Representative Aaron Vega (D-5th Hampden), and Representative Andy Vargas (D-3rd Essex). Their tireless advocacy and leadership has been relentless and as a result thousands of children are guaranteed access to school breakfast in Massachusetts.
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. These negotiations concluded as both chambers approved the amended bill this week. Now, this much-needed legislation moves to Governor Baker’s desk for his signature.
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.
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 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.
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.
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. Enacting Breakfast After the Bell will break down barriers to accessing food, which perpetuate 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.
What is next?
Once the bill is signed by Governor Baker, Massachusetts will join several other states in ensuring students have access to school breakfast. Key stakeholders like the Child Nutrition Outreach Program (CNOP), led by Project Bread 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.