For kids who struggle to get three meals a day at home, free or reduced-price breakfast at school is crucial — but not every student is able to make it to school early enough for that meal. In some instances, there is very little time between when the bus arrives to school and when classes begin.
That is why Breakfast After the Bell programs have gained in popularity, including in Washington, where Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a bill into law to increase the number of these programs in high-need schools. Such programs allow students to eat breakfast in the classroom.
Under House Bill 1508, which Inslee signed today, schools that serve a significant number of low-income students would offer a Breakfast After the Bell program. These would be put in place by the start of the 2019–20 school year and be available in schools where at least 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
The bill allows participation in Breakfast After the Bell to count as instructional time as long as the students are engaged in educational activities during their breakfast and the meal does not disrupt classroom instruction.
The food served to students through Breakfast After the Bell must meet federal nutritional standards. Preference also must be given to food that is fresh and grown in Washington. Each food item must contain less than 25 percent added sugar.
“Improving children’s health is one of the most important things we can do as a state, and that includes good nutrition for children in need,” Inslee said. “I am proud to sign this bill because Washington’s future depends on the health of our children.”
Breakfast After the Bell programs have been a priority for Inslee and his Healthiest Next Generation Council. North Thurston School District Superintendent Debra Clemens, a member of that council, said it is exciting to see the program become a reality for children across Washington.
“It is wonderful to know that our voices have been heard and that the Legislature and the governor are putting the health of children first,” Clemens said. “It’s another example of how we can meet our students where they are and offer supports for equity and nutrition.”
Alicia Neal, a nutritionist with the North Thurston School District, said programs such as Breakfast After the Bell lead to the academic success of students.
“Research supports what we see every day in our schools: A well-nourished child who starts the day with breakfast is more likely to attend school, learn and participate in the classroom, and have fewer behavioral issues,” Neal said. “Breakfast After the Bell helps remove these barriers and increases opportunities for students in schools that have the highest need.”
Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman agreed.
“Breakfast is critical to learning and health,” Wiesman said. “Giving students the opportunity to eat breakfast not only puts them on the right path to achieve their highest health potential, it also positively affects their performance in school.”
A Breakfast After the Bell program is being tested in Highline Public Schools in South King County with positive results. Before rolling out the program in 2013, only 30 percent of students were eating breakfast in a district where 74 percent qualified for free or reduced-price meals. Within about a year, schools that offered the program increased the amount of students eating breakfast by about 20 percent.
Under the new Breakfast After the Bell law, schools are encouraged to coordinate with farm-to-school initiatives, or launch new ones, and to work with the Washington State Department of Agriculture to share best practices for purchasing Washington-grown food for their meal programs.
The new law also directs the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee to complete an analysis of the program’s effectiveness by 2026.
As the bill moved through the legislative process, a number of people testified to support it. Watch some of their testimony here: