On the table today at the Capitol’s “Food Policy Day” is school breakfast. That’s federally funded cereal, milk, yogurt and fruit.
Now, about 1,800 schools in Texas participate in the federal School Breakfast Program. Food policy advocates and some legislators are hoping that a bill up for vote at the Capitol would add another 1,000 schools to the list.
The state would require schools with high poverty levels, where at least 80 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch, to provide breakfast to eligible students. The money is then reimbursed to schools by the federal government. Last year, Texas was reimbursed over $450 million. Advocates say the expansion would mean over $200 million more in federal contribution.
Food advocates say that the benefits go beyond children. Celia Cole of the Texas Food Bank Network says the program positively affects academic achievement and behavior, which pleases teachers.
“Kids who eat breakfast have better behavior, can concentrate better and have higher test scores,” Cole said.
Supporters argue that Texas farmers stand to gain from an expansion in the program. And they say another group is behind the bill. “The business community is paying attention to this because of the potential to draw down hundreds of millions of dollars in additional federal funding exists,” according to Jason Sabo, founder of public affairs firm Frontera Strategy in Austin.
The bill, authored by Senator Lucio’s (D-Brownsville), passed in the state Senate. But with only 32 days left in the session, some worry that the bill won’t be passed through the House in time. Sabo says the bill is threatened by the fact that the calendars committee is overwhelmed with legislation to pass before June.
“The story of this session revolves around the House calendar. If this bill were to die, it’s not going to be because of the politics—there’s tremendous bipartisan support—it would be the clock,” Sabo said. “Old man time is the boogeyman of this bill, not politics.”
Initially, some in the conservative coalition were concerned with the mandate on schools. The bill was later modified to give schools the opportunity to opt-out.
The school breakfast expansion bill moves next to the Texas House.