NEWARK, NJ - New Jersey advanced to 23rd in the nation for increasing the percent of low-income students who receive a healthy morning meal at the start of the school day, giving them the nutrition they need to concentrate and learn, according to a national released today.

The Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) School Breakfast Scorecard found that New Jersey’s participation rate jumped 11 percent from the 2013-14 to the 2014-15 school years. In 2014-15,  55.3 percent of low-income students who ate lunch at school also received breakfast, the report said. Only three other states – Arizona, Delaware and West Virginia --- achieved higher increases.

New Jersey ranked 28th last year and 46th in 2011, prior to the launch of the NJ Food for Thought School Breakfast Campaign, which has been credited with fueling the increase in school breakfast participation.

In addition, Jersey City ranked 2nd and Newark was 5th nationwide for their high student participation rates, according to FRAC’s School Breakfast – Making it Work in Large School Districts. Jersey City actually served breakfast to more low-income students than those who ate lunch at school. Typically, lunch participation is higher than breakfast. Newark served 90 percent of low-income students who also ate lunch at school.

“New Jersey school leaders continue to make great progress in providing students with a nutritious morning meal, removing a major barrier to learning,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, a leader of the NJ Food for Thought School Breakfast Campaign. “We look forward to continuing that progress in 2016.”

Adele LaTourette, director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition and campaign co-chair, credited the rise with more schools serving breakfast during the first few minutes of the school day. Known as breakfast after the bell, this approach significantly increases student participation in this federally-funded child nutrition program.

“This success shows that breakfast after the bell is do-able and should be part of the morning routine in schools across New Jersey,” LaTourette said. “This year, we will be working with districts to bring breakfast after the bell to more high schools, where participation typically remains low.”

The campaign is a partnership among New Jersey anti-hunger, education and health organizations, a growing number of advocacy organization and state agencies, including the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. The Food Research Action Center, the American Dairy Association and Council and the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Council are the campaign’s national partners.

Zalkind noted that while New Jersey continues to make strong progress on this front, about 300,000 low-income students are still missing out on breakfast and that means New Jersey schools are also missing out on a chance to claim more federal dollars.

Federal funding for the program is based on the number of meals served. According to the FY 2016 state budget, New Jersey districts are expected to collect $92 million in federal reimbursements -- $45 million more than in state fiscal year 2011. Still, if New Jersey achieved 70 percent participation among students who eat lunch at school, schools would collect nearly $18 million more each year in federal dollars, according to the FRAC report.

“We urge school leaders who haven’t done so yet to make this simple change in the way they serve breakfast,” Zalkind said. “While nearly all of New Jersey’s large urban districts are now serving breakfast after the bell in elementary schools, many are not doing so in the high schools. This needs to change, as thousands of teenagers are starting their day without the nutrition they need to succeed in school.”

To learn more about the NJ Food for Thought School Breakfast campaign, visit www.njschoolbreakfast.org.