Community Foundation of New Jersey

NJ Jumps to 19th Nationally for School Breakfast

February 14, 2017

New Jersey is now in the top 20 nationwide for ensuring that more low-income students start their school day with a healthy morning meal, giving them the nutrition they need to concentrate and learn, according to a national report released today.

The Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) School Breakfast Scorecard found that New Jersey’s participation rate increased 6 percent from the 2014-15 to the 2015-16 school years, pushing it to 19th place. In 2015-16, nearly 59 percent of low-income students who ate lunch at school also received breakfast, the report said.

New Jersey ranked 23rd last year and 46th in 2011, prior to the launch of the NJ Food for Thought Campaign, which has been credited with fueling the increase in school breakfast participation.

The Community Foundation of New Jersey was proud to support this work at its launch (more here).

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 92 percent of low-income students who also ate lunch at school.

“This is great news for New Jersey students,” said Cecilia Zalkind, President/CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, a leader of the NJ Food for Thought School Breakfast Campaign. “Without proper nutrition, children struggle in school. We continue to encourage more schools to adopt this very do-able solution to combating childhood hunger.’’

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. Previously, most schools served breakfast before school when most children had not yet arrived.

“This continued success shows that breakfast after the bell should be part of the morning routine in schools across New Jersey,” LaTourette said. “This year, we will continue to work with districts to bring breakfast after the bell to more schools, especially high schools where participation remains relatively low.’’

The campaign is a partnership among New Jersey anti-hunger, education and health organizations, state agencies, including the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, and a growing number of advocacy organization. The Food Research Action Center and the American Dairy Association Northeast 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. That means New Jersey schools are also missing out on a chance to claim more federal dollars to feed hungry children.

Federal funding for the program is based on the number of meals served. According to the 2018 state budget, New Jersey districts are expected to collect $98 million in federal reimbursements — $50 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 $14.2 million more each year in federal dollars to feed students, according to FRAC’s School Breakfast Scorecard.

“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 njschoolbreakfast.org.

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About the report

The Food Research and Action Center measures the reach of the School Breakfast Program by comparing the number of low-income children that participate in breakfast to those that participate in school lunch. The School Breakfast Scorecard contains national and state data for breakfast participation. School Breakfast – Making it Work in Large School Districts surveys 73 large urban school districts across the country on school breakfast participation rates and policies during the school year.

Both reports are available at www.frac.org.