Saturday, April 22, 2017

‘After bell’ law encourages easy access
to school breakfast

Some districts face
additional breakfast requirements.
Among the bills that came into effect with this calendar year, Public Act 99-0850 generally requires school districts to provide a “breakfast after the bell” program where there are large groups of qualified students. But the requirement applies only if 70 percent or more are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, are classified as low-income, or can be claimed for free or reduced-price meals. 

The new law requires those districts to implement such a program next school year. Districts are exempt, however, if 70 percent or more of free or reduced-price eligible students are already participating in existing breakfast programs or if, due to district-specific circumstances, the expense reimbursement would not cover the costs of implementation.

“We worked with sponsors of the bill to make sure that there were exemptions, some flexibility, and an opt-out. One-size-fits-all policies do not work in a state as diverse as Illinois," said Deanna Sullivan, IASB’s Director of Governmental Relations.

The purpose of the bill is to increase access to a breakfast at school to ensure students can start their school day with a healthy meal. Students have been offered breakfast in Illinois schools since 2009. But the new law specifically refers to breakfast provided to children after the instructional day has begun.

Each district may determine the service model that best suits its students. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) offers examples of “breakfast in the classroom, grab and go breakfast, and second-chance breakfast.”

Of course, a drawback to the mandate is paying for it. According to ISBE, “State reimbursement to offset a portion of the cost of the meal is available if a site serves a reimbursable meal to a student eligible for a free meal and the site is enrolled in the Illinois Free Breakfast and Lunch Programs. Both state and federal reimbursement is available if a site enrolls in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and/or School Breakfast Program (SBP).”

A Chicago newspaper recently reported that one of the larger suburban districts there will seek an exemption for its elementary schools, based on the reimbursement not covering the cost.

Also considered a drawback is the potential loss of instructional time.

Proponents include University of Illinois Extension Educator Jessica Gadomski, a registered dietitian for SNAP-Education. She says “While initially it may take some getting used to, teachers can use the time to take attendance, read classroom announcements or collect homework assignments. It is worth it to have a class with children who are fed, focused and ready to learn.”

For more information on the law and its implementation, visit the Nutrition and Wellness section of
the ISBE website.