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Bill would fund free breakfasts at poorest middle, high schools

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Fifth-grader Tyler Otero, 10, drinks milk served during school breakfast inside Jeanette Cordova’s classroom at Adobe Acres Elementary on Monday. New Mexico Appleseed, a nonprofit child advocacy organization, is backing a bill that would expand school breakfast programs in high-poverty middle and high schools. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Fifth-grader Tyler Otero, 10, drinks milk served during school breakfast inside Jeanette Cordova’s classroom at Adobe Acres Elementary on Monday. New Mexico Appleseed, a nonprofit child advocacy organization, is backing a bill that would expand school breakfast programs in high-poverty middle and high schools. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A child advocacy organization is pushing legislation that would require New Mexico’s high-poverty middle and high schools to serve free breakfast to all students.

The proposed law would provide an additional 23,000 students with free breakfast at a cost of $680,000 to the state, according to New Mexico Appleseed, the nonprofit that is advocating for the bill.

“As kids get older, they are more likely to go hungry,” said Jennifer Ramo, executive director of New Mexico Appleseed.

That’s partly because many middle and high schools in the state don’t serve breakfast, Ramo said.

Another reason is that at middle and high schools where free breakfast is served to low-income students, some don’t eat it because they don’t want to reveal their poverty to their peers, Ramo said.

But if free breakfasts were served to all students, poor kids wouldn’t feel that stigma, she said.

The proposed law would require middle and high schools to serve free breakfasts to all students if 85 percent or more qualified for free or reduced-price meals.

Under the bill, the state would reimburse schools for meal costs not covered by federal reimbursements.

A student rolls a cart full of school breakfasts to her classroom at Adobe Acres Elementary School. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

A student rolls a cart full of school breakfasts to her classroom at Adobe Acres Elementary School. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The federal government reimburses schools for meals served to children who qualify for free meals and provides partial reimbursements for meals served to students who qualify for reduced-price meals.

School breakfast is common at elementary schools. Elementary schools that serve breakfast must make it free to all students to qualify for federal reimbursements. And elementary schools must serve free breakfasts if more than 85 percent qualify for free or reduced meals.

Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, and Rep. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, are sponsoring the bill in the house. Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, is sponsoring the bill in the senate.

“We all know nutrition is key,” Campos said Monday. “(The bill) is to ensure our young people are properly nourished and ready to do well in the classroom.”

Campos said supporters will have to convince lawmakers it’s worthwhile to fund the program.

“I don’t believe there is opposition, but it always comes down to the dollars available,” he said.

The Public Education Department is generally supportive of any measure that would increase access to school breakfast, said spokesperson Larry Behrens.

“While we still need to study the specifics of this bill, we are supportive of measures that help students prepare to learn in school,” Behrens said.

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