The measure is expected to significantly boost student participation in the federal School Breakfast Program and bring millions more in federal dollars back to New Jersey to feed hungry students, according to Adele LaTourette, director, New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition.
"Many districts serve breakfast before school, which causes extremely low participation because most students simply have not yet arrived,'' she explained. "Making breakfast part of the school day - just like lunch - is the only effective way to deliver breakfast to the many New Jersey children who need this morning nutrition to be focused and ready to learn. We applaud the governor and Legislature for making childhood hunger a top priority.''
To assist school districts in meeting the new mandate, the coalition today released New Jersey's School Breakfast Story, a report spotlighting successful school breakfast programs in New Jersey districts and the effect similar legislation has had in other states.
"We hope districts will find this information useful as they map out their own strategies for serving breakfast after the bell to all students,'' LaTourette said.
According to the report, districts that have switched to this delivery method report the same results. Student participation soars. Students are ready to concentrate and learn. There are fewer trips to the school nurse, fewer classroom disruptions and attendance improves, the report found.
After years of making significant gains on school breakfast, New Jersey saw a 4 percent decline in breakfast participation from April 2016 to October 2017, according to Advocates for Children of New
Jersey's (ACNJ) analysis of state data.
"This new law will go a long way toward boosting breakfast participation, combating childhood hunger and ensuring that all children begin their day with the nutrition they need to concentrate and learn,'' said Cecilia Zalkind, president & CEO, Advocates for Children of New Jersey. "We commend our state leaders for taking this important action.''
NJAHC and ACNJ co-lead the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign, which works to expand participation in federal child nutrition programs. Both organizations were instrumental in developing and advancing the school breakfast legislation.
Under the new law, an estimated 500 schools educating nearly 308,000 students will be required to serve breakfast after the bell, according to ACNJ.
In these schools, nearly 90 percent of students, on average, are eligible to receive free or low-cost school breakfast. Yet only about half received breakfast in October 2017, translating to almost 150,000 unserved students, according to ACNJ. Under the law, affected schools must serve breakfast after the bell by the 2019-2020 school year.
In high-poverty schools, federal per-meal reimbursements cover the cost of school breakfast, while often pumping additional funds into school meals programs to build kitchens, upgrade cafeterias, buy new equipment, hire staff and improve the food schools serve to all students, according to the coalition's report.
From October 2010 to April 2017, breakfast participation rose 73 percent among low-income students. As a result, federal meal reimbursements more than doubled to $105 million, according to the New Jersey state budget. ACNJ estimates that the new legislation will bring an additional $42.9 million in federal funds to New Jersey schools to serve breakfast.
"It is rare that a solution to a problem exists that does not cost state taxpayers a single penny and instead brings more money into the state,'' said Sheila Nix, president of Tusk/Montgomery Philanthropies, which is supporting efforts to expand school breakfast in New Jersey and other states. "We commend New Jersey for being a national leader on this front and look forward to working together to ensure this legislation benefits the maximum number of children, helping more New Jersey children succeed in school.''
For more information about school breakfast, visit njahc.org or njfoodforthought.org.