Community Foundation of New Jersey

Breaking: Breakfast After the Bell Feeds More NJ Students

October 15, 2015

We were very pleased to join Advocates for Children of New Jersey and Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno in Jersey City this morning to celebrate the latest success of the NJ Food for Thought Campaign we’ve supported – while also acknowledging the long road ahead.

A growing number of New Jersey schools are serving breakfast during the first few minutes of the day and, as a result, have achieved a 75 percent increase in the number of low-income students eating this all-important morning meal, according to the 5th Annual NJ School Breakfast Report, released today by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) and the NJ Food for Thought Campaign.

The number of New Jersey students eligible for free- or reduced-price school meals who ate a healthy breakfast at school rose from about 136,000 children in 2010 to 237,000 in 2015. That translates to roughly 100,000 more low-income children eating breakfast at school each day, the report said.

In addition, during this same time, the number of children living in higher-income families who ate breakfast at school also rose 31 percent — a sign that a growing number of parents who can afford to pay for breakfast prefer to have their children eat at school.

ACNJ also released data for every school district with at least 20 percent of students eligible for free- and reduced-priced school meals. State law requires these districts to provide school breakfast. Find local data here.

The switch to serving breakfast during the first few minutes of the school day is fueling the rise in school breakfast participation. For years, nearly all New Jersey schools served breakfast before school – when children have not yet arrived. Over the past five years, more schools have switched to serving breakfast during the first few minutes of the school day. Known as “breakfast after the bell,” this approach significantly boosts student participation in the federal School Breakfast Program.

As a result, districts are claiming more federal dollars. According to the FY2016 state budget, districts are expected to collect $92 million in federal reimbursements — $45 million more than in state fiscal year 2011 — the year before the school breakfast campaign was launched.

The report was released at the Fred W. Martin School in Jersey City, which offers free breakfast to all students and has higher-than-average student participation. Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno participated in the event, expressing support for school breakfast expansion.

“This is great news for children across New Jersey,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which co-leads the campaign with the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition. “This simple change in the way breakfast is served means that tens of thousands of children are now receiving the nutrition they need to concentrate and learn. School leaders should be commended for meeting the school breakfast challenge.’’

Jersey City Superintendent Marcia Lyles said the students are benefiting from having breakfast each morning and that many of their educators have expressed strong support for the program.

“The students are more focused and ready to learn,” Lyles said.  “Initially, there were concerns that the program would be disruptive. However, our talented and dedicated staff found ways to make it work for children. As a district, we have systems in place that are running smoothly. Everyone is working together to ensure that all of our students have the nutrition they need to succeed in school.”

Despite this tremendous progress, there is much work to do, Zalkind said. Nearly 300,000 children are still missing out on school breakfast, primarily because a growing number of students are eligible for free- or reduced-price school meals and school officials in some high-poverty districts have yet to embrace breakfast after the bell.

“The need is growing,” Zalkind added, noting that rising child poverty has resulted in a 19 percent increase in low-income New Jersey children over the past five years, with 533,000 students now eligible for free- or reduced-price school meals.

Too many districts continue to serve breakfast before school, Zalkind said. The report identifies 48 high-poverty districts that are serving 30 percent or fewer of their eligible students. These school breakfast “underachievers” could increase student participation simply by serving breakfast during the first few minutes of the school day.

“We are calling on school boards, superintendents, principals and teachers to provide leadership in expanding school breakfast because this is good for children, schools and the state as a whole,” Zalkind said. “Hungry children struggle to learn. Providing breakfast leverages the billions of dollars we invest each year in educating our children, ensuring that more students succeed in school and in life.”

For more information, visit www.njschoolbreakfast.org.