Legislation Aims to Improve Student Achievement, Health Through Innovative Improvements to School Breakfast

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

(SACRAMENTO, CA) - With a single piece of legislation, AB 1240, state legislators took a bold step today to boost academic performance, revitalize California’s limited school breakfast program and more effectively manage existing funding. AB 1240, introduced by Assemblymembers  Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), calls for  practical fixes to improve access to the  school breakfast program and ensure more students start their school day well-nourished and ready to learn.

“Even students with the best teachers and curriculum will struggle to learn if they come to school hungry,” said Assemblymember Rob Bonta. “Research has consistently shown that hungry kids can’t focus at school, making it difficult for them to be productive and engaged students. By giving students the basic opportunity to nourish themselves and thrive in a positive educational environment, AB 1240 offers a simple solution to help address California’s achievement gap.”

AB 1240, the Breakfast After the Bell bill, aims to maximize access as well as improve the efficiency of the federally funded breakfast program by requiring higher-need schools to implement after-the-bell breakfast programs similar to those shown to be effective in many districts across the state. Possibilities include serving breakfast during an extended passing period, mid-morning break or homeroom, or offering healthy meals on grab-n-go carts. Ultimately, those specifics would be left to local school districts and principals.

Three out of every four children in California miss out on the health and academic benefits of school breakfast. That’s 4.3 million California children, many of whom come to school hungry and distracted. A large body of scientific research has demonstrated that students who eat breakfast have improved cognitive function, academic performance, attendance and psychological well-being. They are also less likely to be tardy, absent or to distract their classmates.

“Many barriers at home and at school prevent California’s children from having breakfast each day,” stated George Manalo-LeClair, executive director of California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA), the bill’s sponsor. “Working parents are busy, schedules are hectic, transportation is challenging and, as most parents know, many kids aren’t ready to eat when they first wake up. These issues are compounded by schools that only serve breakfast before the school day begins, before many kids even get out the front door.” 

Almost 20 percent of California schools do not offer breakfast, and the majority of those that do so only serve breakfast before the start of the school day. As a result, the number of children who participate in the federal School Breakfast Program (SBP) is half that of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

The legislation would require schools at which 40 to 60 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced price school meals to offer breakfast as an option for all students. Schools at which 60 to 80 percent of students are eligible would be required to offer breakfast after the school day begins. Schools at which at least 80 percent of students are eligible would be required to offer breakfast after the bell free of charge to all students. For these particularly high-need campuses, offering breakfast for free to all students is made fiscally possible by available federal reimbursements.

Increased participation in the SBP resulting from Breakfast After the Bell legislation could bring up to $344 million federal dollars to the state of California. Those funds would support food and equipment purchases and create more local jobs while improving academic outcomes for California’s children.

“As a parent and a former school board member, I know how important a healthy breakfast is to our children’s success,” stated Assemblymember Tony Thurmond. “This is a win-win opportunity.  Not only does it use existing federal funds to make sure our kids start their day with a nutritious breakfast, but it helps our educators foster a better learning environment in which kids are more focused. That’s a priority for every parent.”

More information about AB 1240 and the links between school breakfast and academic success is available at www.calbreakfast.org.