A bill passed by the state House would require schools with higher poverty rates to offer breakfast after the morning bell to ensure every student has access to something to eat at the start of the day.
OLYMPIA — More Washington students would have access to a morning meal under legislation that overwhelmingly passed the state House on Wednesday.
House bill 1508 would require schools with at least 70 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals to move breakfast from before school to after the morning bell to ensure every student can get a nutritious snack at the start of the day.
Schools that don’t meet that criteria would have the option of changing breakfast from before to after the bell.
Almost 42 percent of students in Washington benefit from the free or reduced-price meal program, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
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“We decided we are going to present a bill this year we can all agree to and all vote for,” said Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, a sponsor of the legislation. “It is time 1.1 million kids are prepared to learn when they come to school.”
House lawmakers approved the bill 83 to 15 on Wednesday. The same proposal was approved last year by the House but stalled in the Senate.
The meal program would cost about $540,000 per year and would be largely paid for by Washington’s Department of Agriculture.
Similar legislation, Senate bill 6003, was introduced by Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, on Monday. Wellman said she plans to change her bill so it mirrors the one that passed the House.
The House bill included a section that would make it easier for schools to get fresh produce directly from farmers and language to collect data on results of the meal program.
“I prefer the House version and I would hope we would amend the Senate version if it’s not already mirroring the House version,” said Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup.
Zeiger is a ranking member of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, which is chaired by Wellman.
Some schools in Washington have already implemented so-called breakfast-after-the-bell programs.
The Highline School District, which serves 20,000 students in South King County, piloted the program at Midway Elementary in 2013. Since then White Center Heights, Mount View and Madrona Elementary have started breakfast-after-the-bell programs.
Currently 63 percent of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
Madrona Elementary Principal Kellie Hernandez said the school’s breakfast-after-the-bell program has increased breakfast participation from 50 percent to 90 percent since it was started last year.
“I’m really thankful for the program and have received positive comments from families about how their kids are feeling supported,” Hernandez said. More than 80 percent of Madrona students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
A public hearing on the Senate version of the bill is scheduled for Thursday.