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Washington House backs late breakfast programs at public schools

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 10, 2018, 8:53 p.m.

North Pine Middle School students Tygeer Catchings, 12, and Brandon Jackson, 13, choose blueberry parfaits for breakfast on the day of their introduction, Feb. 3, 2014 in Spokane Valley, Wash. Offering free or reduced-cost breakfasts to low-income students after their first period class would be mandatory for some school districts under a bill approved by the House Tuesday. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
North Pine Middle School students Tygeer Catchings, 12, and Brandon Jackson, 13, choose blueberry parfaits for breakfast on the day of their introduction, Feb. 3, 2014 in Spokane Valley, Wash. Offering free or reduced-cost breakfasts to low-income students after their first period class would be mandatory for some school districts under a bill approved by the House Tuesday. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Some Washington public schools would be required to offer free or reduced-cost breakfasts to low-income students even if they arrive just before classes start, under a bill approved overwhelmingly by the House on Tuesday.

In its first vote on legislation in 2018, the House approved a bill known generally as “Breakfast After the Bell,” an effort to make sure hunger doesn’t get in the way of learning.

“We know that kids can’t learn if they’re hungry,” Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, said.

The proposal would help supplement a federal breakfast program by setting up a collaboration between the state Department of Agriculture and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to supply breakfast to schools listed as “high-needs,” which means they have 70 percent or more of their students who qualify for free or reduced-cost meals.

Based on federal data, more than 200,000 of Washington’s 1.1 million public school students participated in a school breakfast program in 2016.

Some schools, however, limit the program to a period before classes start, while others offer late breakfast on a voluntary basis. House Bill 1508 requires high-needs schools to offer it after classes start, to accommodate those who arrive close to the first bell.

The estimated cost for the extended program is about $500,000 for a two-year budget cycle, lawmakers were told.

Critics said that while serving a later breakfast doesn’t seem to be disruptive, schools should decide whether to offer it after classes start rather than being required to do it. Some also questioned whether the costs would grow.

The bill now goes to the Senate. Last year the House passed similar versions of the bill three times but the Senate failed to vote on any of them.