UPDATE: House Bill 222 is scheduled for another hearing in the Senate Economic Development Committee on Monday, March 9 at 10 a.m.
A bill aimed to increase school breakfast access to 16,000 Utah students failed in a legislative committee Wednesday, after passing with bipartisan support from the full House.
Republican Rep. Dan Johnson sponsored House Bill 222, the Start Smart Utah breakfast program. The bill would have required schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to also participate in school breakfast, adding 92 Utah schools to the breakfast program. It would also change the timeframe for school breakfast for schools with the highest proportions of food-insecure students — some breakfast programs begin an hour before school starts, and HB 222 would have extended breakfast so kids could eat after the first bell. The bill also would allow schools to opt out of the program if they didn’t have the staff and facilities to support it. Schools would be completely reimbursed by federal funds.
Neil Rickard with Utahns Against Hunger spoke in favor of the bill, citing the positive impacts to children when they have access to breakfast.
“We do know that alternative breakfast programs like the ones in this bill increase participation, increase access to food, improve health outcomes and improve the academic performance of the students that receive them,” Rickard said.
District 27 Sen. David Hinkins, an Orangeville Republican who represents a portion of Wasatch County, asked why it was the legislature’s responsibility to perform parental duties.
“Parents should be parents," Hinkins said. "I mean, my mother fixed my breakfast; my wife fixed my kids’ breakfast.”
The Park City School District reports 22% of its nearly 5,000 students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program. According to John Hopkins, director of child nutrition services at the district, only about 18% of students who qualify for free breakfast and lunch utilize the program daily. Hopkins says it’s tough to get kids to breakfast on time, considering when buses arrive and when the first bell rings.
Meaghan Miller-Gitlin, executive director for EATS Park City, says the organization is disappointed in the bill’s outcome, saying it can be difficult to break cycles of poor diet and bad health.
“Hungry children have less ability to focus," Miller-Gitlin said. "They may exhibit negative behaviors and will affect not only themselves but their classmates, and EATS believes that all children should have access to breakfast options.”
Despite support from state superintendent Sydnee Dickson and Utah Department of Health Director Joseph Miner, the bill failed, with Democratic Sens. Derek Kitchen and Karen Mayne voting in its favor, and Republican Sens. Dan McCay, Ralph Okerlund and Hinkins voting against. Two other senators were absent from the vote.
Utahns Against Hunger Gina Cornia told KPCW, though, that the bill’s sponsor says HB 222 will be back in the Senate Economic Development Committee on Monday.