- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A bill designed to encourage more Nebraska students to eat breakfast drew support Monday from education groups and school system employees.

Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln has introduced a bill that would encourage schools to create alternative breakfast programs, such as grab-and-go meals or food served in the classroom.

The bill, which would create a grant program for schools to establish such meal plans, was presented to the Education Committee on Monday.

“We want to be sure that our kids are not missing out on this opportunity to have a nutritious start every morning because we know it contributes to greater success in the classroom,” Avery said.

Avery cited a national study that found that students who eat breakfast score 17.5 percent higher on math tests than those who don’t eat breakfast and are 20 percent more likely to graduate from high school.

Nebraska has the third-lowest participation rate for free and reduced-price lunch students participating in school breakfast programs across the country, according to the Food Research and Action Center, a national nonprofit that works to fight hunger.

Only 31 percent of those who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals use a breakfast program, according to the Department of Education.

John Skretta, superintendent of Norris School District, south of Lincoln, testified in support of the bill.

His school district has implemented a grab-and-go breakfast in some of its schools. Those schools have much higher participation rates than schools with traditional breakfast programs, he said.

Students may not have time to eat in the morning or may not be interested in the traditional cafeteria breakfast, supporters of the bill said.

There is also a stigma associated with a traditional breakfast program, said Steph Montgomery-Loder, director of Hunger Free Heartland, a collation to address childhood hunger.

“When you go in for breakfast, other kids know that you’re poor,” but with a grab-and-go breakfast no one knows, she said.

Dondi Kilgore, nutrition supervisor for Lincoln Public Schools, testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Nebraska School Nutrition Association.

Some small schools don’t have the facilities for a grab-and-go program, she said. But she said the grants could be used for startup needs such as trash cans, lunch carts or marketing materials to let parents and students know of the new programs.

No one testified against the bill.

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The bill is LB834

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