Contact: Nancy Parello, Communications Director, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, 973-643-3876, 908-399-6031, firstname.lastname@example.org
After being nearly last in the nation for years, New Jersey jumped to 37th place for serving more children from low-income families a healthy breakfast at the start of their school day, according to a national report released today. Last year, New Jersey ranked 46th.
The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) said that New Jersey served 45.4 percent of low-income children for every 100 who participated in school lunch in the 2012-13 school year, compared to 41 percent the year before and 38 percent in 2010-11. New Jersey was one of only 10 states that saw a more than 5 percent increase in participation from the previous year.
This achievement is the result of a growing number of schools serving breakfast in the first few minutes of the school day, instead of the traditional method of providing breakfast before school when most children have not yet arrived. Known as “breakfast after the bell,” this approach significantly increases student participation.
“This is amazing progress,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which co-chairs the NJ Food for Thought School Breakfast Campaign. “New Jersey school leaders should be commended for their strong efforts to ensure that all children begin their school day with the nutrition they need to concentrate and learn.”
“This is great for students across the state,” said Adele LaTourette, director of the Anti-Hunger Coalition and co-chair of the NJ Food for Thought School Breakfast Campaign. “Hunger is a major barrier to learning. This progress means that more students have a better chance of succeeding in school.”
Both noted that since this program is federally-funded, it is not costing local taxpayers additional dollars and is leveraging the substantial investment New Jersey makes each year in public education.
Much of the progress can be credited to the NJ Food for Thought Campaign, which was launched in September 2011 when Advocates for Children of New Jersey released its first school breakfast report. The campaign is now driven by a statewide committee that includes all of New Jersey’s major education groups, the state Departments of Agriculture, Health and Education, anti-hunger and health organizations and child advocates.
In addition to raising awareness of the issue on a statewide basis, the campaign is working with school communities across the state to help them meet the logistical challenges of changing the way they serve breakfast.
Despite the progress, New Jersey still has a long way to go. If 70 percent of eligible students who eat school lunch also receive breakfast, school districts would claim about $26.6 million more in federal reimbursements – dollars that New Jersey taxpayers are already sending to Washington, D.C., according to FRAC’s report. Those funds would feed an additional 109,000 children each and every school day, the report said.
According to Advocates for Children of New Jersey’s annual school breakfast report, released in October 2013, roughly 300,000 children eligible for free- or reduced-price school breakfast were still not receiving it as of March 2013.
“We expect to see these numbers to continue to improve, however, as more and more districts adopt breakfast after the bell,” Zalkind said, citing roll-outs underway in Jersey City, Camden and Trenton, among others.
“New Jersey can rise to the top of the school breakfast ranks,” LaTourette added. “All it takes is for school communities to come together and decide to serve breakfast in a way that is better for kids. Districts that do this uniformly report that breakfast after the bell simply becomes part of the daily routine.”