Thursday, March 31, 2011
No Decision on Breakfast Bill
By Hailey Heinz
Journal Staff Writer
A bill that would require low-income elementary schools to serve free breakfast for students is among the bills beginning to clutter Gov. Susana Martinez's desk.
If signed, SB 144 will require that breakfast be served in all elementary schools where at least 85 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch. The bill also requires that breakfast be served during the first instructional period, so students can still get breakfast even if they don't arrive at school early.
Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said Wednesday night that Martinez had not decided whether she would sign the bill.
Jenny Ramo, executive director of hunger advocacy group New Mexico Appleseed, said the bill will provide an increased flow of federal matching dollars, without adding new local money.
Currently, $2 million in state money is appropriated for free breakfast around New Mexico. This bill would maintain that amount but not increase it. The $2 million goes to schools, subsidizing the cost of lunch for students whose income is too high to qualify for federal reimbursement.
Ramo said her think tank estimates the bill will feed 55,000 additional students per year and bring in about $15 million in federal money. The federal leveraging works like this: if breakfast is served before the bell, the only students who participate are those who arrive at school early. If breakfast is served in class after the first bell, participation rises to nearly 100 percent. That means schools get reimbursed for all their students, bringing in more federal dollars.
Ramo said the main pushback against the bill has been concerns that breakfast during class could disrupt the learning process. Ramo cited schools that currently serve breakfast after the bell as examples of places where disruption has not become an issue.
"They just do instructional time while kids are eating. They take attendance, do math facts and life moves on," Ramo said. "It's not disruptive and teachers don't feel like waitresses."
Christine Trujillo, president of the New Mexico chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said teachers she represents were not concerned about disruption. She said the value of having focused, well-fed students outweighed any concerns about disruption.
"We believe that kids need to be focused," Trujillo said. "One of the things that happens when they come to school hungry is they can't acclimate. They're distracted; they're hungry."