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Information on Children and the Law

Kids Count

October 2, 2012

Contact: Nancy Parello| (973) 643-3876| (908) 399-6031|

New Jersey Inches Forward on School Breakfast

Long behind the national curve on school breakfast, New Jersey saw a 21 percent increase in the number of children from low-income families receiving breakfast at school, according to a new report released today.

Advocates for Children of New Jersey’s 2nd Annual School Breakfast Report found that a growing number of districts are implementing “breakfast after the bell” where students eat breakfast right after school starts, typically in the classroom or the cafeteria. This approach is more effective than the traditional method of serving breakfast before school and has resulted in nearly 29,000 more children getting a healthy morning meal each school day.

“This is great news,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “We know that hungry children struggle to learn. All our efforts around education reform are in vain if students are hungry. We commend the districts that have stepped up to meet the school breakfast challenge.”

The increase in school breakfast participation from October 2010 to March 2012 means that schools are serving an estimated 5 million more meals over the course of the school year and receiving millions more in reimbursements from the federal School Breakfast Program.

Despite the progress, just 35 percent of the 471,714 children eligible for free- or reduced-price breakfast actually received it in March 2012. “That leaves a lot of room for improvement,” Zalkind noted.

The report was released at East Side High School in Newark, which serves breakfast in the classroom to every one of its 1,500 students – the only Newark high school and one of very few statewide to do so.

Joining ACNJ in support of school breakfast expansion were Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson, Mayor Cory Booker, Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf and Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher. All encouraged the many districts that are still serving breakfast before school – when most children have not yet arrived – to change to a breakfast-after-the bell model.

In addition, Giants Linebacker Mark Herzlich talked to students about Fuel Up to Play 60, a school wellness program by the American Dairy Association and the National Football League in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture.  The program encourages youth to choose nutrient-rich foods first and get out and play at least 60 minutes each day.

ACNJ’s report spotlighted “breakfast champions” – the top 20 districts with high concentrations of poor children that are serving the highest percentage of eligible students.  The average participation rate in these 20 districts was 72 percent in March 2012 – more than double the state average of 35 percent. The report also includes a list of “breakfast underachievers” – 64 districts with high child poverty and low school breakfast participation.

“When children are hungry, they struggle to learn,” Zalkind said. “Expanding school breakfast participation, then, significantly leverages the substantial investment we make in public education. We urge school leaders --- superintendents, school boards, principals and teachers -- to follow the lead of our breakfast champions and step up to meet the school breakfast challenge.”

ACNJ also published school breakfast participation data for every New Jersey district with 20 percent or more children eligible to receive free- and- reduced-price school meals. New Jersey law requires these districts to have a school breakfast program.

Advocates for Children, along with the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, is leading the NJ Food for Thought School Breakfast Campaign, a statewide effort to boost school breakfast participation by 30 percent by June 2013. The campaign is driven by a steering committee that includes New Jersey anti-hunger, education and health organizations, state agencies and child advocates.  For more information on the campaign, visit

Read ACNJ’s full report and find district-level data.
Advocates for Children of New Jersey is a non-profit, non-partisan child research and action organization. ACNJ’s efforts in the school breakfast initiative are made possible through the generous support of The Community Foundation of New Jersey, Walmart Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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