New York City Council members are pushing the Education Department to require that all public schools offer students a free breakfast in the classroom rather than in the cafeteria. The full council today passed a resolution by a vote of 42-2 that calls on the Bloomberg administration to expand the program, now offered in less than 400 of the city's 1,700 schools.
The move is symbolic, however, because the Department of Education is a mayoral agency and the City Council cannot force it to change its rules.
Still, Councilman Stephen Levin of Brooklyn, one of the sponsors of the resolution, says it is important for the council to call attention to the issue. He says only 34 percent of children who qualify are eating breakfast at school.
"Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of kids in the New York City school system that could be eating breakfast that aren't," he said. "And that's absolutely an injustice."
To underscore its position on the issue, the City Council also passed a second resolution calling on state lawmakers to pass and the governor to sign legislation requiring all public schools to serve breakfast in the classroom.
New York City requires that schools make a breakfast available free of charge to all students, regardless of income. Most of those meals are served in cafeterias before the beginning of the school day. Council members and hunger advocates contend that serving breakfast this way does not reach enough hungry students.
Instead, council members want all schools to either serve breakfast in the classroom or hand students a bagged breakfast as they walk through the door each morning.
The Bloomberg administration maintains that principals should decide how to administer the meals program based on whatever makes sense for their schools. The administration also worries that a universal breakfast program could help fuel childhood obesity. The administration has previously cited data showing that serving breakfast in the classroom may prompt more students to "double-dip" -- to eat once at home and once at school.
"We want to make sure that no child is hungry and every child has a healthy breakfast," said Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. But she added that 40 percent of the city’s public school children are either overweight or obese.
"So we are appropriately concerned in making sure that our work to solve one problem doesn’t inadvertently exacerbate the other," she said.
But supporters of the City Council resolution reject that reasoning and point out that New York City falls behind other urban school districts nationwide in ensuring that children who qualify for a free lunch are also eating a free breakfast at school. One study, released earlier this year by the Food Research Action Center, ranked New York City last in a list of 26 urban districts when it came to getting eligible children to participate.