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Field poll finds strong support for breakfast in the classroom

Craig Clough | April 9, 2015

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Student-Eating-Breakfast1Nearly two-thirds of California voters support legislation requiring schools to integrate breakfast into the school day, according to the latest statewide Field Poll.

Four questions on breakfast in the classroom were included in the poll on behalf of California Food Policy Advocates, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the health and well-being of low-income Californians by increasing access to nutritious, affordable food.

Support was strong among all voters, regardless of ethnicity, age, gender or geography, the poll found.

“Californians see breakfast as essential to a child’s ability to learn in school,” Mark DiCamillo, senior vice president of the Field Research Corporation, which administers The Field Poll, said in a statement. “What’s striking in this poll is the magnitude of voter support for schools to proactively offer all kids an opportunity to eat breakfast, and this includes a breakfast after the bell requirement.”

In a telephone survey of 1,251 registered voters, 64 percent expressed support for legislation requiring public schools to offer breakfast after the start of the school day, either in homeroom or during a mid-morning break. Currently, most schools offering federally funded breakfast serve it only before the school day begins.

The poll also found that 77 percent of respondents believe that breakfast positively impacts student academic achievement. A recent national study links school breakfast participation with higher math, science and reading test scores, and other studies have shown that school breakfast improves attendance, behavior and student health.

The poll results contradict the view of many teachers, who oppose breakfast in the classroom. They argue that it deprives children of valuable instruction time, reducing their learning capabilities. Teachers also say the cleanup time, especially in classes of kindergartners and first graders, can stretch to as long as 45 minutes, further delaying the start of instruction. 

The poll found strong support, 78 percent, for using existing federal funding to ensure that more students start their day with breakfast.

Currently, up to $344 million in federal school breakfast funds go unused by California schools each year largely because almost 20 percent of California schools do not offer breakfast, and among schools that do offer breakfast, the majority only serve it before the start of the school day, according to California Food Policy Advocates. As a result, the federal School Breakfast Program (SBP) reaches only half the number of students served by the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

In late February, Assemblymembers Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) introduced AB 1240, the “Breakfast After the Bell” bill. The legislation would increase access to school breakfast and improve academic achievement statewide by implementing many of the changes strongly supported in this Field Poll.

“It is encouraging, but not surprising, to know that so many of our constituents stand behind this proposal,” Bonta said in a statement. “Any teacher will tell you that hungry kids struggle to stay focused. By ensuring more students have access to breakfast at school, AB 1240 offers a practical solution to help us close California’s achievement gap.”

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