Come September, approximately 650 New Jersey schools will be required under state law to serve free or reduced-price breakfast to their students after the first bell rings, not before it.

According to numbers released Wednesday, the mandate is coming at the right time.

An analysis of state data conducted by Hunger Free New Jersey and the national Food Research & Action Center finds that just a little more than half of the students in New Jersey's poorest schools were accessing a nutritious breakfast as of earlier this school year.

Of the 648 schools that would fall under the new law, which requires breakfast be served after the bell where at least 70 percent of students qualify for subsidized meals, about a third were feeding at least 70 percent of eligible students, according to the report. These schools, the report said, are most likely serving breakfast after the bell already.

But 42 percent of these high-poverty schools fed less than half of their low-income students in October 2018.

"And at this point these schools are missing out and the state is missing out on $30.4 million by serving so few students breakfast," said Adele LaTourette, director of Hunger Free New Jersey.

Schools are reimbursed for the free or discounted meals they serve to students.

"You've got 173,000 students who are currently missing out on breakfast because of the method of the service," LaTourette said.

LaTourette said the School Breakfast Program, and others like it, recognize the strong link between nutrition and learning. The New Jersey State Legislature, recognizing the link as well, passed the measure in May 2018 that was later signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy.

Statewide from April 2017 to October 2018, school breakfast participation slid 5 percent, representing the second decrease in a row. But since 2010, statewide participation is up 65 percent.

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