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Arkansas Lawmakers Consider Expanding School Breakfast Program

PHOTO: Research shows that academic gains can be traced to participation in school breakfast programs for low-income students. Courtesy of Share Our Strength.
PHOTO: Research shows that academic gains can be traced to participation in school breakfast programs for low-income students. Courtesy of Share Our Strength.
February 27, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - About $1 million would buy a lot of meals from a school cafeteria, and that's exactly what a bill in the Arkansas Senate aims to do.

The measure would make money available for grants to prompt more schools in the state to serve breakfast in the classroom.

It's well documented that starting the day with breakfast helps children pay attention and learn more effectively. Patty Barker, director of the "No Kid Hungry" campaign in Arkansas, said the benefits reach into the school day, beyond just quieting rumbling stomachs.

"It gives everyone a sense of family as they start the school day," she said. "It improves behavior. Several schools have reported that it has improved their reading scores and math scores."

For adults, breakfast in the classroom may conjure up fears of messy desks and spilled milk on the carpets. But Cathy Koehler, president of the Little Rock Education Association, said that hasn't been the case since the district has brought food out of the cafeteria.

"That was always the fear," she said. 'How is this going to work? How much time is it going to take away from classroom instruction?' But once it got kicked in and the first schools did it, the first few, and they told other people, 'Oh, this is so doable and so beneficial,' everyone got on board."

A recent national report cited Little Rock schools as among the top in the nation for the district's progress in making a healthy breakfast available to more students. A study by Deloitte and the national hunger-fighting group Share Our Strength said breakfast reduces absences, improves test scores and increases the chance that lower-income children will graduate.

About 55 percent of the children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches at school also eat breakfast there, Barker said. The goal is to raise that number to 70 percent.

The legislation, Senate Bill 428, is in the Joint Budget Committee and a vote is expected on Thursday.

The Deloitte study, "Ending Childhood Hunger: A Social Impact Analysis," is available from Ariane Holm at aholm@strength.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - AR