POSTED: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - 12:26pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - 12:30pm
AUSTIN, TEXAS (KVEO NEWSCENTER 23) — Today, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) announces the filing of a bill intended to expand children's access to a healthy school breakfast.
Senate Bill 376 would require that all school districts and open-enrollment charter schools participating in the federal School Breakfast Program provide a free breakfast to each student, if 80% or more of that school's students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
"We need to ensure that every Texas child has the resources they need to reach their full potential. This begins with a nutritious breakfast," Senator Lucio said. "It has been shown that providing access to nutritious food increases students' concentration, and reduces students' absences and discipline problems. Unfortunately, nearly two million children across this state come from families that are food insecure, meaning they don't know where their next meal will come from. We need to give these students every available resource if they are to raise themselves out of poverty through education."
The School Breakfast Program is a federally-funded program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food and Nutrition Program, and implemented by participating school districts. All meals must meet federal nutrition standards, which are set to be updated over the next biennium to include appropriate caloric intake for grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12; gradually reduce students' sodium intake; and include more fruit.
Children from families with incomes at or below 130% of federal poverty level are eligible for free breakfast under the Program. School districts are reimbursed by the USDA for meals provided under the Program. Schools in "severe need" — that is, school districts in which 40% or more of their meals are served for free or at a reduced price — receive additional reimbursements from USDA.
According to advocacy group Children at Risk, expanding the School Breakfast Program would be cost neutral to schools because of federal funding.
Senate Bill 376 is intended to increase schools' participation in the School Breakfast Program. As recently as 2009, participation has been half that of its sister program, the National School Lunch Program. Further, many eligible students opt not to take advantage of the Program because of the stigma of receiving a free or reduced-price meal. Offering free breakfast to all students in a school helps to eliminate that stigma.
Passage of this bill would have an enormous impact on the nutrition of Texas public school students. According to Children at Risk, around 2.9 million public school students in Texas qualify for free or reduced-price school meals and close to half of these students attend schools where at least 80% of their peers also qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.
Senate Bill 376  was endorsed by expert nutrition advocates who attended Monday's Hunger Roundtable Summit, a Capitol event organized by Senator Lucio's office.
The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Education Monday.