CHICAGO – Governor Rod Blagojevich today signed the Childhood Hunger Relief Act, requiring more Illinois schools to implement a breakfast program. House Bill 756, sponsored by Rep. Susana Mendoza (D-Chicago) and Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), stipulates that all schools in which at least 40 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch must also provide a breakfast meal. Such programs have been proven to help children perform and behave better in school.
“Kids that start the day hungry can have a hard time concentrating and doing their best in our schools,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “If we want these children to contribute productively both inside and outside the classroom, then we need to do our best to ensure that they aren’t expected to do it on an empty stomach.”
"I want to thank the members of the Illinois Hunger Coalition who have worked with me over the past several years as we have fought to pass this important legislation," Sen. del Valle said. "We have seen study after study that has indicated that children who start the day with a nutritious breakfast perform better in school. Now, children from low income families throughout Illinois who may have had little or nothing to eat in the morning will benefit from having a good breakfast to start their day."
“I am pleased that my fellow legislators as well as the Governor are now seeing hunger as a public policy issue,” said Rep. Mendoza. “Hungry children cannot learn, and we need to feed their bodies before they will be able to digest what we are feeding their minds.”
Numerous studies conclusively link proper nutrition with cognitive ability. The Illinois Hunger Coalition, which has worked for four years to pass the Childhood Hunger Relief Act, reports students who are properly nourished at the start of the school day perform academically higher in class and on standardized tests, are more alert, have fewer visits to school nurses, have lower rates of tardiness and have lower rates of behavioral disorders. One specific study, conducted by the American School Food Service Association found among fourth grade students, those who had the least protein in their diets had the lowest achievement scores.
“Decades of scientific research have taught us that children cannot concentrate when their heads and stomachs ache from hunger,” said Diane M. Doherty, Executive Director of the Illinois Hunger Coalition. “For years, Illinois has had one of the worst records in the nation for serving breakfast to hungry children and retrieving federal dollars to pay for it. We applaud the Governor and the General Assembly for this significant decision which will help so many of our children.”
Approximately 45 percent of the more than 1.8 million Illinois school-age children are eligible for free or reduced lunch. But, while cafeterias across the state served more than 100 million free lunches in 2003, they served approximately 30 million breakfasts. In October 2003, Illinois was ranked 48th among the states in providing breakfast to low-income students.
HB 756 gives school districts 90 days to determine which schools in their districts are required to offer the breakfast program and to implement the service there. The programs will be supported through a variety of means, including available federal funding and other State or local resources.
The new law also encourages districts in which 50 percent or more of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch to look into offering a summer food service program, either through the district or a non-profit or private agency, by 2006.
HB 756 is effective immediately.