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New England News

Breakfast In Classroom Bill Advances On Beacon Hill

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WAMC
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Legislation is advancing on Beacon Hill that would expand access to school breakfast in Massachusetts.

Since Springfield began offering breakfast in the classrooms in each of its public schools in 2017, the second-largest school district in the state has seen increased attendance, less truancy, and fewer students making mid-morning trips to the school nurse, according to Liz O’Gilvie, who chairs the Springfield Food Policy Council.

"And when children start the day with a full belly they tend to learn more and like the rest of us are able to be attentive, so it is a wonderful thing," said O'Gilvie.

Just before recessing until January, the Massachusetts House unanimously passed a bill to require schools where 60 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price meals to serve breakfast in the classroom.

The bill now goes to the State Senate, which has approved similar versions in two previous legislative sessions.

Democratic State Rep. Aaron Vega of Holyoke, one of the co-sponsors of the bill that would implement a policy known as “Breakfast After the Bell,” said bringing food into the classroom at the start of the school day allows students and teachers to share some communal time and get nourished.

"Lots of school obviously have the cafeteria open before the bell before classes start, but we know kids don't show up on time, there is a stigma, buses run late.  There are a hundred reasons why a child who might be hungry won't get there early to get breakfast," said Vega.

About 30 school systems would be required to start providing breakfast in classrooms if the bill becomes law.

"If a district does feel it is hardship to immediately take on, there is an opportunity to get a one-year waiver," said Vega.

After several years of food policy and public health advocates trying to overcome opposition to a breakfast in the classroom mandate, Vega said a breakthrough came when the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education advanced a regulation that would count as learning time the 15 minutes alloted for breakfast.

" It won't put any additional stress on teachers to make up that 15 minutes," said Vega.

The cost of the breakfast meals is covered by the federal government with a reimbursement rate structure that rewards schools for high participation in the meals programs.

Vega noted the breakfast in the classroom bill passed the House this fall along with legislation to restructure the state’s school-funding formula as well as a comprehensive bill focusing on children’s health issues.

"This is part of a larger statement  and we at the state level are going to fund education properly and we as a Commonwealth are really focused on our kids," said Vega.

Research shows that one in 9 children in Massachusetts regularly go hungry.

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