School Breakfast = Big Win for Hungry Kids

The School Breakfast Program is supposed to help kids start their day with a nutritious meal, but Washington State ranks an abysmal 44th in the nation in school breakfast participation. Thousands of kids go without the fuel they need to thrive. Not okay.

Five years ago, United Way and our partners set out for a solution.

We thought it would be a simple fix. We teamed up with Washington Appleseed, The Food Research and Action Center, WithinReach, Children’s Alliance, Share Our Strength, and Representative Zack Hudgins in 2013. Our collation developed the case for the project, called Breakfast After The Bell, and the legislation to bring it to Washington schools.

We were inspired by the legacy of the Black Panther Party (which helped launch the school breakfast program starting in Oakland in 1969) and concerned with the growing racial disparities among low-income families today, our coalition wanted a strategy to address student hunger using a racial equity lens. Breakfast After The Bell is part of that solution. It takes the existing federal dollars for the National School Breakfast program and makes them more effective by making breakfast part of the school day – just like lunch.

But rather than simple, it was hard. It took five years of coalition building, pilot programs, data gathering and advocacy to show that Breakfast After The Bell was a smart policy for Washington students.

But our persistence paid off! Governor Inslee signed Breakfast After The Bell into law on March 7! It’s a major victory for the 1 in 5 children in Washington who struggle with hunger. Thanks to this legislation, 30,000 additional students in high-need schools will now have the chance to get the critical school breakfast they need every day. This means the work United Way successfully piloted at Fuel Your Future schools in King County will scale to 400 schools across WA!

This legislation aims to decrease the number of students of color skipping breakfast. Why? Data shows that students of color and American Indian/Alaska Native students in our state were more likely than their white peers to report skipping breakfast on the day of the Healthy Youth Survey (conducted by the Washington State Department of Health).

There are so many who worked tirelessly to make this possible: record numbers of anti-hunger advocates, farmers, human services leaders, school districts and more. It would not have been possible without the leadership of Representative Stonier, Representative Hudgins, and Senator Wellman as well as the incredible No Kid Hungry team from the national non-profit Share Our Strength.

Big thanks our fabulous partners at the WA Anti-Hunger and Nutrition Coalition, Northwest Harvest, Food lifeline, WithinReach, WA State PTA, WA School Nutrition Association, Office of the Superintendent Of Public Instruction, and United Ways across Washington. Special kudos to the United Way Public Policy Impact Council who kept this issue at the forefront of our policy agenda for five years. And thanks to everyone who called, tweeted, emailed and advocated for school breakfast. You made this a reality for kids in our state!

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