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Breakfast-in-Class Ruling Helps MA Reach More Low-Income Students

PHOTO: Project Breadís Chef Vanessa LaBranche with students is part of the outreach that is moving the Commonwealth out of the basement when it comes to participation in school breakfast. Courtesy: Project Bread
PHOTO: Project Breadís Chef Vanessa LaBranche with students is part of the outreach that is moving the Commonwealth out of the basement when it comes to participation in school breakfast. Courtesy: Project Bread
February 19, 2015

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education now says instruction provided during the breakfast period can be included in structured learning time, and child nutrition advocates say the decision could turn things around when it comes to reaching low-income children with a healthy breakfast at school.

Pat Baker, a senior policy analyst with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, says last week's ruling by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is huge, because it removes a major barrier to getting breakfast to more low-income students in the state.

"So, this gives the schools breathing room to be able to meet the minimum hours of instruction,” she states. “And everybody knows that the kids are indeed eating and learning at the same times."

Baker stresses additional gains can be made for schools that use the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which provides federal funds to feed more students in high-needs districts.

Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), says CEP is a relatively new U.S. Department of Agriculture program that allows a school to feed all students free of charge if most of them are low-income.

"The advantage of this is, it eliminates the stigma of these programs being seen as for poor kids,” Weill explains. “It eliminates the differential between what kids are eating. It eliminates paperwork. It's just fabulous all around to offer meals to all kids for free."

The state had dropped from 36th in 2010 to 44th in the nation in the latest school breakfast report card.

Ellen Parker, executive director of the anti-hunger group Project Bread, credits the Commonwealth with joining a winning team that recognizes that children do better in class when they start the day well nourished.

"I think really what happened is that, a lot of other states did it and we were able to observe the success of it,” she states. “It became more in the normal range of things – so it's great news."

More than 11 million low-income children nationwide are participating in free breakfast programs on the average day.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - MA