New Jersey is slipping in providing breakfast to low-income students, many of whom routinely face hunger, according to a state-by-state analysis from the Food Research and Action Center.

In their annual School Breakfast Scorecard, the Garden State dropped from 19th to 21st when looking at the ratio of low-income children participating in school breakfast to low-income children participating in school lunch. While New Jersey's rate for the 2017-2018 academic year (59.1) is slightly higher than the national average, it's also slightly down from a year prior.

More than half of the country's states experienced a percentage uptick over that same period.

"I think some schools went from serving breakfast after the bell to serving breakfast before the bell, for whatever reason," said Adele LaTourette, director of of Hunger Free New Jersey. "And then at the same time we have also seen a drop in the number of children enrolled in school."

Serving breakfast before school, LaTourette explained, offers the meal when most students have not yet arrived. By serving breakfast after the bell, schools can reach all children who need morning nutrition to concentrate and learn.

"When schools serve breakfast after the bell, participation skyrockets," LaTourette said. "Many New Jersey schools have successfully adopted this approach, but many have stubbornly resisted, while others have rolled back problems due to logistical concerns."

Schools are provided federal funds to feed children a healthy breakfast. The report finds New Jersey schools are failing to claim at least $14 million in federal school breakfast funds.

LaTourette added that in today's political climate, some immigrant families may be reluctant to apply for the federal program.

But a new state law may reverse the trend in New Jersey.

Enacted in May 2018 and to begin in September 2019 is a law that requires breakfast after the bell be served in schools where at least 70 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

The state has notified 99 districts, comprised of 237 affected schools, that implementation plans must be submitted by May 31.

"We anticipate that that will serve to increase our numbers in school breakfast, but more importantly and really most importantly, it'll make sure that more hungry children are fed," LaTourette said.

New Jersey previously had no after-the-bell requirement, but there is a mandate that a breakfast program exist in schools where at least 20 percent of students are eligible for free or discounted meals.

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