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Bill Spotlight: Breakfast After the Bell

February 8, 2013

One of the many bills that the Colorado Health Institute is tracking this session is HB 13-1006 (Breakfast After the Bell Nutrition Program), sponsored by two freshmen lawmakers, Representative Tony Exum (D-Colorado Springs) and Representative Dominick Moreno (D- Commerce City).  Senator Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) is the Senate lead sponsor.  

HB 13-1006 would require each Colorado school in which 70 percent or more of its students are eligible for free or reduced lunch to offer a free breakfast to all students. Individual schools could choose how and when to provide the breakfast – such as delivering it to classrooms during the first period or serving it during a passing period between classes – as long as breakfast is provided after the first bell of the school day.  The bill exempts schools with fewer than 100 students and school districts with fewer than 300 students, as well as any school that does not participate in the federal school lunch program.

While many Colorado schools already offer breakfast for students, it is not always free, nor is it typically offered after the school day has begun. Bill proponents say that many students cannot afford breakfast or do not have time to eat before class. Providing free breakfast after the school day has begun, they say, will increase the number of students who eat breakfast. They argue that students who eat the meal will have improved concentration, academic performance and overall health.

Legislative Council estimates that the program would result in an additional 91,720 Colorado students at 386 schools receiving free in-school breakfast in the program's first year.

The bill has received bipartisan support. It passed out of the House Education Committee with one amendment on an 11-2 vote and has been referred to the Appropriations Committee.  

So what does the evidence show about the impact of school breakfast programs?

  • Multiple studies found a correlation between skipping breakfast and learning or attention problems. A 2008 study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that serving breakfast to schoolchildren who did not get it at home significantly improved their cognitive abilities, enabling them to be more alert and to improve their reading, math and other test scores.
  • Breakfast programs in other states have yielded positive outcomes on student performance metrics. In a Maryland pilot program, students who were offered a free in-school breakfast had fewer suspensions, reduced tardiness and better academic performance compared to students who did not participate in the breakfast program.
  • Some evidence has shown a connection between school breakfast programs and students' weight. A 2009 Mathematica Policy Research study noted that "participants (in the School Breakfast Program) had significantly lower BMI than did nonparticipants, possibly because participants are more likely to eat breakfast and eat more at breakfast, spreading calorie intake more evenly over the course of the day."

Legislative Council estimates that the bill would require $435,148 from the General Fund in fiscal year 2014-15. An estimated $27.8 million would fund the rest of the program through reimbursements to individual school districts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Beyond the program's cost, some have expressed concerns about whether providing breakfast in the classroom could be a distraction to students or reduce instructional time.  

The Colorado Health Institute will keep you updated as this bill makes its way through the legislative process.