From 46th among the states in 2011, New Jersey now ranks 19th for providing free or reduced-price breakfast to students who need it most, according to a report released Tuesday by the Food Research & Action Center.

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In just one year, an additional 15,000 low-income students in the Garden State started their school day with a healthy morning meal, the report said.

The report, which bases its rankings on the percentage of students eligible for the National School Lunch Program who also receive breakfast, points to more than 267,700 students receiving breakfast during the 2015-2016 school year, compared to 252,420 in 2014-2015.

"New Jersey was at the bottom of the country for years in terms of school breakfast, and it is exciting to see how far we've come," said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

Zalkind attributed much of the state's success to a campaign devoted to getting more schools to serve breakfast during the first few minutes of the school day, rather than prior to the bell when the food would reach fewer kids.

"When we look at our own state data, we know that 106,000 more children are getting breakfast every day since the campaign started in 2011," she said.

During the 2015-2016 school year, schools received $1.66 in federal funds for each breakfast served, and $1.36 per reduced-price breakfast. Funding is based on the number of meals served, and according to the 2018 state budget, New Jersey school districts can expect $98 million in federal reimbursement.

"This is one of the few campaigns that cost no state money," Zalkind said.

But the state's participation rate has room for improvement, Zalkind noted. At least 300,000 more New Jersey children are entitled to breakfast at school but aren't getting it, she said.

Nationwide, Jersey City ranked second and Newark ranked fifth in the report for their student participation rates. In Jersey City, more students actually received breakfast than lunch. Of the Newark students eligible for free or discounted lunch, 92 percent were served breakfast as well.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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