Bill boosts breakfast benefits for students

By Chloe Wilhelm - Staff Reporters

High-need schools will be required to offer programs that would allow students to receive breakfast after the beginning of the school day, if a new bill is signed by the governor. 

House Bill 1508, also known as the Washington Kids Ready to Learn Act, was passed last week in both the House and Senate with bipartisan support, and will help with the creation of breakfast-after-the-bell programs in schools.

The bill was passed in the House and Senate, and is currently awaiting Gov. Inslee's signature.

These programs will serve breakfast after the start of the regular school day, instead of in the lunchroom before school starts.

According to the House Bill report, research has shown that the number of students who participate in school breakfast programs has increased after adding programs such as breakfast-after-the-bell.

These programs are meant to not only increase the number of kids who receive breakfast at school, but also focus on educational outcomes, said Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, the sponsor of the bill.

She explained that students who eat better end up performing better.

"[This bill will] make sure kids are ready to learn," she said.

Rep. Stonier said that the bill has taken many forms within the past few years, and has previously been passed by the House five or six times.

At the time, the Republican majority leader in the Senate refused to vote on the bill, she said. However, this changed after last year's elections, when Democrats took control of the Senate.

Rep. Stonier said that the bill is important because it will make sure that students still have access to food, even if they show up late. 

She said that the students who tend to show up late are more likely to qualify for free or reduced lunch, which is why these programs are important.

"It's meant to remove some of the barriers that kids face outside of school," Rep. Stonier said. "[However,] there have been some concerns about whether this is really necessary."

Some schools have expressed concerns about whether these programs would use up instructional time, Rep. Stonier said. However, she said that the school can design the program so it works for them.

Rep. Stonier said that some schools have implemented grab-and-go programs where students can eat on their way to class, while others have added programs where kids can have breakfast during class, where it is built into the morning routine.

"The school can decide what works best for them," Rep. Stonier said.

Craig Huckins, food services director for Tukwila School District, said that these breakfast programs are extremely beneficial for students.

"Breakfast provides students who start their day with morning sustenance to help waken their brain and increase their learning and retention abilities," Huckins said.

He also said that these programs help increase the number of students who eat breakfast at school in the morning.

"Before-the-bell formats require kids to come to school at least a half hour early, when they are barely awake and not hungry," he said. "[These] formats allow students to get a breakfast when they are more apt to want it."

Huckins explained that throughout the Tukwila School District, schools have implemented a variety of programs, including breakfast-after-the-bell, breakfast-in-the-classroom, and second-chance breakfast.

He said that in their elementary schools, the breakfast programs have increased participation from 25 percent to more than 80 percent, while the implementation of a grab-and-go program at their middle school has led to an increase of 50 percent.

"At Foster High School… overall participation [grew] from about 100 students per day to now over 350, or 40 percent and still rising," Huckins said.

Lisa Johnson, the director of Nutrition Services for Highline Public Schools, said that the breakfast-after-the-bell programs they have implemented are very beneficial for students.

"The number of students eligible for free and reduced meals as of Oct. 31 in our district was 67 percent," she said. "Breakfast is available for all students at each location every school day." 

"Creating more opportunity for students if they want to participate in the breakfast program is beneficial," Johnson said.

The bill will require schools to implement these programs, starting with the schools with the highest need and numbers of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

The bill will go into effect on March 8, with the enforcement of these programs beginning in the 2019-20 school year.

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