February 19, 2014 | Vol.54 N.8

United Way urges legislators to support expansion of school breakfast programs

United Way urges legislators to support expansion of school breakfast programs; Dunshee votes yes as HB 2536 moves to Senate

(Everett, WA) - Volunteers and staff from United Way of Snohomish County met with the county's legislative delegation last week urging lawmakers to expand early learning opportunities and to support an exciting program called "Breakfast after the Bell."

On Tuesday afternoon, legislators in the House of Representatives voted to approve the bill, HB 2536, 67-31. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Jackie Rae, a member of United Way's board of directors and labor advisory council, reported that her meeting with Rep. Hans Dunshee went well. She was in Olympia on Thursday with about 80 other volunteers as part of the 8th Annual United Ways of Washington Lobby Day.

"We were ready with all sorts of stats and research on why kids can't learn when they're hungry. My sister's a teacher. I was ready with real stories, too," said Rae, who lives in Everett.. "But we didn't need them. All we had to say was 'early learning' and 'breakfast'" and he got it. He couldn't have been more supportive."

Rae works at Snohomish County Public Utility District and is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 77.

Children eligible to participate in school breakfast programs usually have to eat in the cafeteria before school begins, when their peers are playing outside or socializing. Several schools across the country, recognizing the stigma that might be attached to this, have made breakfast part of the school day and available to every child. Together, these new models are known as "Breakfast after the Bell."

"It really shouldn't be a big issue," said. Dunshee who represents the 44th legislative district. "Kids have to eat well in order to learn well. It just doesn't work if they're hungry." The 44th legislative district includes parts of Snohomish, Lake Stevens and Mill Creek.

According to research conducted by Washington Appleseed, 1 in 4 Washington state children are at risk of hunger. As a result, many come to school hungry, have a hard time learning and can sometimes be disruptive. Washington ranks 41st in the nation in the participation rate for school breakfast by kids who are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Legislation in other states and studies have shown that breakfast participation rates increase when barriers to participation are removed.

"Working with lawmakers to ensure our children succeed in school is a key strategy for us," said Dennis G. Smith of Stanwood, president and CEO of United Way of Snohomish County.

"Rep. Dunshee is right," said Katrina Ondracek, vice president of public policy and community initiatives for United Way. "We trust his colleagues in the Senate will agree with him too."

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