Saying well-fed students perform better, advocates and state officials claimed strides in enrolling more low-income students in federally-funded school breakfast programs over the last several years. Officials also claimed that some students don’t participate because of perceived stigma. The Committee which heard from members of the Food for Thought Campaign, of which NJPSA is a partner, also heard from Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher. NJPSA provided direct input on several of the measures the Committee approved.
According to Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ), one of the organizations represented at the March 10 hearing, the need to provide school breakfast to low-income children is growing. New census data shows that the number of low-income New Jersey children has grown 19 percent in the past five years, which means that more children are likely arriving in the classroom hungry.
ACNJ's third annual New Jersey School Breakfast Report identified "breakfast after the bell" as an effective and successful approach to significantly boost student participation in the federal school breakfast program. According to the report, if New Jersey schools fed all eligible children, schools would receive an estimated $85 million more in federal funds to feed hungry children.
After hearing from advocates about the success of the program, the Committee approved a committee substitute for A-679 / A-2186 (Cryan, Benson, Singleton, Lampitt and Riley) which seeks to encourage districts to consider Breakfast After the Bell. The Department of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Department of Education, would oversee the effort and also be charged with preparing and issuing an annual report to the governor and the legislature on the number and percentage of students participating in a school breakfast program, and the format used for providing breakfast. NJPSA supports this legislation.
Also approved was legislation, A-1796 (O'Donnell, Cryan), that provides that if a public school student's school breakfast or lunch bill is in arrears, the district must contact the student's parent or guardian to provide notice of the outstanding bill and provide a period of 10 school days to pay the amount due. If the parent or guardian does not make full payment by the end of the 10 school days, the district is to then provide a second notice that school breakfast or school lunch will not be served beginning one week from the date of the second notice unless payment is made in full. NJPSA supports this measure.
In addition, the Committee took testimony on A-2840 (Lampitt, Mosquera, Schaer, Spencer and Pintor Marin). That legislation would require public schools to establish a school breakfast program if five percent or more of the student body is eligible for free or reduced price meals under the federal School Lunch or Breakfast Program. Under current statutes, a school with five percent or more of those eligible students must have a school lunch program, and a school with 20 percent or more of those eligible students must have a school breakfast program. NJPSA expressed concern with the legislation as drafted and is working with the bill sponsors to determine what the factors must be considered (e.g. percentage of students on free and reduced price lunch across the school as well as the district as an example) to ensure that a breakfast program is sustainable. Under current law, a district cannot run a program at a deficit.