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ACNJ Press Release

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For Immediate Release

December 12, 2017

CONTACT:  Nancy Parello, |(908) 399-6031 (cell) | nparello@acnj.org

School Breakfast Participation Dips

After several years of double-digit increases in school breakfast participation, fewer New Jersey children ate breakfast at school in April 2017 compared to the year before, according to a report released today by Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

View report and district-level data.

While participation is still up 73 percent since 2010 – the year before the launch of the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign – state data show a 2 percent decrease in participation from April 2016 to April 2017, the report found. This is the first decrease since the 2011 launch of the campaign, which ACNJ co-leads.

ACNJ released the 7th Annual NJ School Breakfast Report in partnership with the Food for Thought Campaign, which has helped drive substantial increases in school breakfast participation. 

School breakfast participation skyrocketed in New Jersey as more schools serve breakfast after the bell – usually in the classroom during the first few minutes of the day. This method of service significantly increases participation.

But the new data suggest that some schools are scaling back this type of breakfast service, while others remain resistant to making the switch to breakfast after the bell, resulting in a statewide decline in participation. 

The data show that 304,000 children living in low-income families are missing out on this all-important morning meal. These students are enrolled in the breakfast program, but are not receiving the meal because many districts either continue to or have reverted to serving breakfast before school – when most students have not yet arrived.

“This is very concerning,’’ said Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO, Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “Many schools have made incredible progress, proving that breakfast after the bell is doable. We must continue that progress – not slide backward and leave more children hungry.’’

The six-year increase in breakfast participation has resulted in a doubling of federal dollars flowing to New Jersey school districts to feed hungry children, rising to an anticipated $105 million this fiscal year. Districts are reimbursed for each meal served, so as more children eat, more federal dollars are claimed.

ACNJ also released local data for all districts that have at least 20 percent or more eligible students. These districts are required by state law to serve breakfast. Districts with low participation are staffing their breakfast programs, but reaching a fraction of children who could benefit because the meal is being served before most students arrive, Zalkind explained. Bus and family schedules and other factors prevent most children from getting to school before the first bell rings.

Some districts are committed to ensuring all students begin their day with the nutrition they need to concentrate and learn. The report spotlights “Breakfast Champs” – the top 20 high-poverty schools which, together, are serving an average of 82 percent of their low-income students.

“These districts should be commended for recognizing that proper nutrition is as important to a child’s education as good teachers and sound curriculum,’’ Zalkind said. 

The report also identifies 46 high-poverty districts that are serving 30 percent or fewer of their qualified students. These school breakfast “underachievers” could increase student participation simply by serving breakfast during the first few minutes of the school day, Zalkind noted.

“New Jersey spends billions of dollars each year on public education,’’ added Adele LaTourette, director, New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition and co-lead of the Food for Thought Campaign. “Simply changing breakfast service to after the bell leverages that investment so that all students have the nutrition they need to concentrate, learn and succeed in school.’’

“We urge local, county and state officials and advocates to use these data to implement breakfast after the bell in underachieving districts,’’ Zalkind said. “Expanding school breakfast makes sense for children, schools, families and the state as a whole.”

 For more information, visit njfoodforthought.org.

Advocates for Children of New Jersey is the trusted, independent voice putting children’s needs first for more than 35 years.  Our work results in better laws and policies, more effective funding and stronger services for children and families.  And it means that more children are given the chance to grow up safe, healthy, and educated.  For more information, visit www.acnj.org.  Follow ACNJ on Twitter @acnjforkids and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/acnjforkids.



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