Several school leaders from the state of Maryland and Anne Arundel County joined Gov. Martin O'Malley on Tuesday morning at Eastport Elementary to discuss the importance of breakfast in schools and its role in academic success.
O'Malley and State Superintendent Lillian Lowery said local legislators and educators being intent on ending child hunger has been a contributing factor in making Maryland public schools the top-ranked system in the country for five straight years.
"When we set the goal several years ago to have the best public schools in America, there were people who said, 'Oh, you shouldn't do that—what happens if you don't hit it?'" O'Malley recalled.
His response: "But what if we do?"
O'Malley proposed a $1.8 million increase in funding for Maryland Meals for Achievement in his FY2014 budget, which is scheduled for passage by the state legislature in early April. This increase would allow 57,000 more Maryland students to get breakfast in schools, according to a state press release.
Last December, Montgomery County Councilmember Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) penned a letter to O'Malley and Lowery that called for the funds, which adds 130 schools throughout the state.
"In just six years, we have increased by 60 percent the number of children eating breakfast in Maryland public schools," O'Malley said. "Of all the innovations that we can implement, the one that squares the most with our heads and with our hearts is the one that affects a child's stomach."
According to a study by the state and a Deloitte research team, increased accessibility to breakfast in Maryland schools could significantly decrease absenteeism, increase standardized test scores and increase the number of high school graduates by nearly 8,000 per year.
The study also found that Maryland schools currently providing breakfast to students are 12.5 percent more likely to reach "proficient" scores on standardized math tests. More information on the study can be found at the No Kid Hungry website.
More than 47,000 children in Montgomery County are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, an increase of more than 25 percent, according to a statement from Ervin. Under the current funding level for the program, only 40 schools in the county are working with the program, although 80 are eligible.
Ervin also hopes to lower the criteria for schools to become eligible, something that Montgomery County Board of Education President Christopher S. Barclay said is a problem when a hungry child attends a school that doesn't meet the standards for funding.
"If there's a child hungry at any classroom in our state, we need to make sure that they have breakfast," said Barclay.