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Good news and bad news about NJ’s school breakfast program

There was good news and bad news in the fifth annual NJ School Breakfast report released Thursday by Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

Students being served dinner
Hazel Loarca, 7, drinks her milk in the cafeteria area at Kingsley Elementary School, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

More kids are getting school breakfast including children from high-income families, but hundreds of thousands aren’t. A rise in child poverty has also increased the number of children eligible for the program.

“What we’ve seen this year is a 75 percent increase in the number of students getting breakfast and that is 100,000 more children every day who are getting breakfast in school. That is so exciting and exceeds our expectations from when we started our campaign five years ago,” said ACNJ Executive Director Cecilia Zalkind.

Unlike most programs, the school breakfast and lunch programs don’t cost the state money. They actually bring in money. According to the current State Budget, school districts were expected to collect $92 million in federal reimbursements in 2015-16. That is $48 million more than the state received in Fiscal Year 2011.

The number of kids from high-income families who are getting school breakfast rose 31-percent in the past five years according to the report.

“That was a surprise in this year’s report as well because what we’re discovering is as schools get creative and offer breakfast to all kids even those whose parents pay, we’re seeing an increase in the number of parents who are purchasing breakfast at school,” Zalkind said. “The idea of making sure that kids start the day with a healthy breakfast is being embraced for all kids.”

There is still a lot of work to do to serve every kid who is eligible for breakfast at school.

“We’re also mindful of the fact that 300,000 children who are eligible for school breakfast are still not getting it. In fact, if we look at the last year there are 19 percent more kids eligible for free and reduced price school meals since we started five years ago and that’s because of growing child poverty,” Zalkind said.

As the saying goes, “timing is everything.” Zalkind explained that more districts were serving breakfast during the first few minutes of the school day and that resulted in the increase in school breakfast participation. For years, schools served breakfast before school when many kids we’re even there yet. Zalkind said “breakfast after the bell” significantly boosted student participation in the program.

 Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at Follow him on twitter at @kevinmcardle1.

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