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WA Lawmakers Asked to OK Breakfast in School Classrooms

PHOTO: For kids at Hoquiam's Central Elementary School, fetching their classroom's portable breakfast cooler is a coveted responsibility at the start of each day. Every child eats a nutritious breakfast in the classroom. Photo courtesy Hoquiam School District.
PHOTO: For kids at Hoquiam's Central Elementary School, fetching their classroom's portable breakfast cooler is a coveted responsibility at the start of each day. Every child eats a nutritious breakfast in the classroom. Photo courtesy Hoquiam School District.
February 11, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Washington has slipped slightly, from 41st to 43rd, among states serving breakfast at school to kids who might otherwise go without.

Hunger-fighting advocates in the state say the new national rankings from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) are a wake-up call. They're backing legislation in Olympia to add breakfast in the classroom in schools with high numbers of children in need.

Sharon Beaudoin, chief operating officer of the group Within Reach, said it would apply to about 400 schools, many of which have been too busy or budget-strapped to try serving food outside the cafeteria.

"It's been very hard to get schools to do that," she said. "The mandate will require that schools that have 70 percent or more kids who are eligible for the free or reduced-price breakfast have a breakfast-after-the-bell option available."

According to FRAC, the most effective breakfast programs are those served in the classroom, ensuring that all kids are fed. In Olympia, the House Education Committee has passed the bill; the Senate committee has yet to take action.

The bill also allows up to $6,000 per school for one-time startup costs. The Hoquiam School District already is serving "breakfast after the bell," and Food Service Director Erica Barrie predicts that the help with implementation will make a big difference in school participation.

"There are things you just don't realize you need, and one is extra refrigeration space," Barrie said. "We run on such a tight margin already, that is money that's just not there - and greatly appreciated in the legislation, to have start-up funding."

The meals are served free to all students, which takes away any stigma and allows kids and teachers a few minutes to ease into the school day. Barrie said students and parents have given breakfast in the classroom high marks.

According to FRAC, fewer than half the students in Washington who eat free or reduced-price lunches at school also have breakfast there.

The School Breakfast Scorecard is online at frac.org. Details about the legislation (HB 1295/SB 5437) are at apps.leg.wa.gov.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA