In 2012, Brainerd High School began serving Breakfast After the Bell as part of University of Minnesota pilot study to learn about the best approaches and impact of making breakfast easily available to students after the beginning of the school day. Breakfast After the Bell-a model by which breakfast is offered after the official start of the school day-is proven to be one of the best ways to overcome barriers to school breakfast participation.
Five years later, Second Harvest Heartland, Hunger Solutions and Children's Minnesota-alongside leaders in health care, agriculture, education, manufacturing, social service and other sectors-worked with lawmakers to introduce House File 1037 and Senate File 1427 to the Minnesota Legislature in February that help schools increase breakfast offerings.
It's proven that amazing things happen when kids eat breakfast every day. Research shows that when kids consistently eat a healthy breakfast their test scores, attendance and graduation rates improve. Teachers and principals also report that classrooms are calmer and more focused.
The traditional school breakfast program, which serves breakfast before the start of the school day, is a good first step toward addressing hunger and supporting student achievement. But participation is limited and so is the impact. In Minnesota, nearly half of children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals aren't getting breakfasts at school. Many students simply do not arrive in time to get to the cafeteria before classes begin.
Increasing the availability of free school breakfast for Minnesota's learners is an important, common-sense way to create a healthier future for the next generation. Breakfast after the Bell legislation will increase access to a nutritious school breakfast for all of Minnesota's learners. It will provide support to schools, like meal reimbursements, to either establish or expand school breakfast programs. Right now, Minnesota is leaving $12 million of federal school food funding on the table by not fully implementing Breakfast After the Bell.
In a time of a lot of important issues around health, safety, and wellness that impact our children, this legislation is an achievable strategy to maximize our access to available federal resources for our students and a tangible, long-term return on our tax investment. Region Five Development Commission encourages schools to purchase locally grown commodities from Minnesota growers and ranchers for all school related meal programs, which allows for even greater local economic impact to our communities and farmer families.
This legislation will be a game-changer for the thousands of students who would benefit from healthy school breakfasts. That is why school leaders, parents, teachers, anti-hunger advocates and community leaders are grateful to our legislators who include funding for this bill in their budget proposal to Gov. Tim Walz.
Cheryal Lee Hills is executive director of Region Five Development Commission