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Report: Expanded Hours Boost Massachusetts School Breakfast Participation

A bill to make "breakfast-after-the-bell" a requirement at some public schools is scheduled for a vote by the state Senate Thursday. (Matt York/AP)
A bill to make "breakfast-after-the-bell" a requirement at some public schools is scheduled for a vote by the state Senate Thursday. (Matt York/AP)

Massachusetts schools that revamped their breakfast programs last year to serve the meal after the start of the instructional day, instead of before, experienced "notable increases" in participation, according to a new state report.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's report analyzes the offerings of certain schools that were required to make breakfast available to students after the start of the school day. It was filed in the Senate clerk's office this week, while senators were preparing to take up a House-approved bill that would affirm the breakfast requirement.

Last year's and this year's state budget each included language stipulating that all public K-12 schools that are required to serve breakfast, and where at least 60% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals "shall offer school breakfast after the instructional day has begun and the tardy bell rings."

Schools that are required to serve breakfast under state law are those "which draw their attendance from areas with a high number of needy children."

A bill teed up for a Senate vote on Thursday, a version of which cleared the House unanimously in November, would enshrine the so-called "breakfast after the bell" requirement in law, rather than leaving it up to the annual budget process.

Everett Democrat Sen. Sal DiDomenico is the lead Senate sponsor of the measure. The move, according to his office, is intended to make clear that after-the-bell is the standard going forward. The bill also provides additional guidelines for schools and charges the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education with establishing an implementation schedule.

Supporters of the bill say that serving breakfast after the school day begins increases access for hungry students and helps make sure children are able to focus on learning.

The report that the department filed gauges compliance with the fiscal 2019 budget's breakfast-after-the-bell language.

At the start of the 2018-2019 school year, the education department found, 688 schools from 112 districts met the breakfast mandate's eligibility criteria, and 308 of those schools were already offering breakfast after the bell. Of the remaining 380 schools, 97 changed their breakfast model to after-the-bell, leaving 283 schools from 72 districts not in compliance.

Department officials notified those 72 school districts in January of the requirement and gave them a May 31 implementation deadline, the report said.

By the end of June 2019, an additional 181 schools had fully switched to the after-the-bell model. Seventy-five schools reported a "proposed" breakfast-after-the-bell system to the department and the remaining 27 "did not react to the mandate and continued to report only a before the bell breakfast model at the end of June 2019," the department said.

In total, 278 schools switched their breakfast programs from one that offered students meals before the start of the school day to one that made the food available after the instructional day had begun. The department found that regardless of how the schools served the meals — whether in the cafeteria, in classrooms, or through a grab-and-go kiosk — student participation in the breakfast program increased after the switch.

"Overall, a 10% increase in student breakfast participation took place for all 278 schools that changed to an after the bell model" in the 2018-2019 school year, the report said. There was also a 7% increase in the total number of breakfasts served for those 278 schools.

Among the schools that made the switch, those who delivered breakfasts to classrooms had the highest participation rate — 67%, up from 60% in the 2017-2018 school year. For those that served breakfast in the cafeteria, student participation moved from 35% to 38%.

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