NSBA notes flaws in child nutrition bill scheduled for vote

(updated to reflect new date of vote)

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote Dec. 2 on a bill to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act, which, if passed, would send the legislation to President Obama this month.

NSBA is working to amplify the concerns of school districts about the financial and operational impact of this legislation, known as the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” (S. 3307). During a preliminary debate on the bill, several members of the House cited NSBA’s concerns. On Nov. 30, NSBA sent a letter to Representatives outlining those issues, which include:

  • Standards—S. 3307 authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to issue standards for all foods sold outside the school meal program, on the school campus, and at anytime during the school day. Many school districts already have modified and improved options for foods sold outside the federal school meals program and rely on revenue from those sales for school operations.
  • Funding—The bill authorizes $4.5 billion in new funding over 10 years. The bulk of new funding will go toward increasing the reimbursement rate for school lunches; however, the funding level is inadequate to cover the cost to most school districts of compliance with new standards, reporting, and implementation requirements.
  • Reimbursement—The bill authorizes a six-cent increase per school lunch that complies with updated nutrition standards for school meals. NSBA estimates the actual increased cost of compliance ranges from 11 to 25 cents. There is no reimbursement increase for school breakfast in either bill. Compliance with updated standards is not mandatory, but Congressional Budget Office scoring for the legislation assumes that all school districts will do so—and districts will be under scrutiny due to new reporting requirements in the bill.
  • Paid meal pricing—The bill regulates how schools establish prices for paid meals if it appears that the price is artificially low compared to subsidized meals. The price of paid meals is both an access issue and a local control issue. School districts may try to keep the price of meals low in order to assure that low-income families that don’t qualify for subsidized meals can still afford a school lunch.

NSBA is asking the House members to instead pass a simple extension of the current programs.

“Despite good intentions, this bill has many new and problematic requirements that, taken together, make it difficult if not impossible for school districts to successfully implement,” said Lucy Gettman, NSBA’s director of federal programs. “It creates additional burdens and unfunded mandates at a time when our school districts are facing severe budget shortfalls.”

NSBA has communicated these concerns to members of Congress and the Obama administration throughout the two-year legislative process.

According to NSBA’s advocacy department, other provisions in S. 3307 create new requirements for school districts, but provide no new federal funding for implementation. These include:

  • Training and certification requirements for all school food service personnel.
  • Expanded Wellness Policy requirements including implementation status reports and periodic reassessments of the policy.
  • New reporting requirements on the school nutrition environment, including food safety, local wellness polices, program participation, and nutritional quality of meals.
  • Independent review of applications in high-error/high-risk districts.
  • Extension of food safety requirements to the entire school campus.
  • Authority for the Secretary to levy fines against states and districts for program rule violations.
Joetta Sack-Min|November 30th, 2010|Categories: Educational Legislation, School Board News, Wellness|

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