By Amber Larkins, Capital News Service
Gov. Martin O’Malley wants to end childhood hunger in the United States one state at a time, beginning with Maryland.
On Wednesday, at a breakfast event at Eastport Elementary School, O’Malley said he’s included $1.8 million in his proposed budget towards expanding Maryland Meals for Achievement, a program that feeds breakfast to students.
“There’s no such thing as a spare Marylander, a spare American, a spare child,” O’Malley said. “Our children deserve the ability to grow.”
Of Maryland’s 1,441 schools, 271 participate in Maryland Meals for Achievement, a program administered by the Maryland State Department of Education which seeks to increase school breakfast participation by supplying students with breakfast at their desks.
However, 542 eligible schools are not participating.
In Maryland, 195,000 students currently start their day with breakfast at school, said State Superintendent Lillian Lowery. An additional 57,000 students could benefit if the legislature passes O’Malley’s budget item.
“Sometimes the conversation focuses on so much of the big and abstract issues and reforms that we overlook the simple straightforward programs like Meals for Maryland,” said Maryland State Education Association Vice President Cheryl Bost.
O’Malley is the first Maryland governor to join the No Kid Hungry Campaign, which is run through Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America.
“We have a crisis in this country,” said Share Our Strength President Tom Nelson. “Too many kids go hungry.”
One out of five American kids struggles with hunger, and three out of five teachers say they teach students who regularly come to school hungry, according to a study by Deloitte Consulting.
The same study found that students who have breakfast served at school tend to attend school 1.5 more days a year, get 17.5 percent higher math test scores, and are 20 percent more likely to graduate from high school.
“We can’t have a strong competitive Maryland without strong kids,” Nelson said. “All we need is the will politically and personally to change that.”
House Speaker Michael Busch supports the addition to O’Malley’s budget.
“Education is the great equalizer in this country,” Busch said.
State Superintendent Lowery said breakfast at school programs helped Maryland schools be ranked No. 1 in the country five years in a row.
“Breakfast sets the stage for the academic day,” Lowery said.