On Maine beaches this week, children build sandcastles, jump on skim boards, chase seagulls and collect sand dollars. Summer in small-town Maine is idyllic, complete with parades, fireworks and family cookouts.

Often, though, by the sea not all is as it seems. Camouflage is how nature keeps the peace. The rust-colored lobster can be impossible to see against the rocks. The octopus changes color and shape to hide in plain sight. The moon snail looks inert on the sand, although beneath the surface, it drills furiously through the shell of a clam to suck out its sustenance.

Likewise, on the beach, not all is as it seems. The kids are every bit as happy as they look, but many are not Maine kids. They are visiting from elsewhere: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York.

Maine kids don’t have it nearly as good. Between 2011 and 2015, the rate of children living in deep poverty – half the national poverty level, or less than $10,000 for a family of three – rose faster in Maine than in any other state in the nation. More than 85,000 students in Maine qualify for free or reduced-price meals. One in five kids in Maine struggles with hunger.

When kids are hungry, they can’t learn. Hungry kids struggle to keep up with their peers. Hunger means lower test scores, poorer grades and increased behavioral and emotional distress. Eating school meals improves nutritional intake, social emotional development, behavior and academic achievement.

While adequate nutrition can be a powerful tool to set children on the path to success, only 47 percent of kids eligible for free or reduced-price meals in Maine eat school breakfast.


Many schools serve breakfast in the cafeteria before the morning bell rings to ensure that all students are nourished and ready to learn, but too many hungry kids miss it because of transportation delays or are ashamed to admit they need a free breakfast. By simply changing the time a school serves breakfast, test scores rise, behavioral problems drop and graduation rates soar. From Massachusetts to Montana, schoolchildren across the country are eating breakfast in the classroom and seeing these remarkable outcomes.

Maine schools are also catching on one by one: In Caribou, Breakfast After the Bell means that 350 percent more kids ate a nutritious breakfast at school last year. Breakfast After the Bell produced a drastic drop in morning visits to the school nurse because of hunger, and increased focus and attention in the classroom. Louise Dean, the food service director in Caribou, says teachers chase her down in the grocery store to tell her how much more alert and ready to learn the students are with breakfast in the classroom.

Earlier this summer, despite support from thousands of Mainers, the Legislature failed to override Gov. LePage’s veto of L.D. 809, a bill that would have moved schools to Breakfast After the Bell if more than 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

This bill did not create a new government program, nor would it have cost any additional state revenue – the bill simply would have made Maine’s school breakfast program work more effectively to reach hungry kids. With one seemingly minor vote, the Legislature missed a major opportunity to brighten the futures of so many kids in Maine.

The Legislature and governor should take the lead on good policymaking by encouraging Maine schools to operate the school breakfast program in a way that works best for all Maine kids.

Breakfast After the Bell is the kind of rare policy that crosses the partisan divide. The Maine bill garnered widespread bipartisan support, but fell just a few votes short of overriding a veto from the governor. Governors and legislators from both parties are championing the success of Breakfast After the Bell in states including Nevada, Illinois, Virginia and Arkansas. All kids deserve to benefit from such a smart policy.

Maine’s informal motto is “The way life should be.” For tens of thousands of Maine’s kids, life is what it should not be: empty, uncertain, stressful, a struggle. When the sun shines on our beaches, the sea sparkles and the sky is impossibly blue, it is magic. But too many of Maine’s kids trapped in poverty are not there to enjoy it.


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