The Child Nutrition Act reauthorization passed in December. So why was it a hot topic at a session on legislative priorities at the Federal Relations Network conference?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing regulations that could dramatically impact the implementation of the new law, and school leaders need to let their Congressional representatives know the issues they will be facing if some of the regulations do not blunt the impact of the law.
NSBA and several other groups opposed the passage of the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” because it created many vague mandates with minimal or no funding increases. However, the bill was pushed by First Lady Michelle Obama and others who want to help children living in poverty have access to healthier foods.
“Sometimes what looks good on paper doesn’t work on the ground,” noted NSBA legislative analyst Katherine Shek.
Some of the more problematic provisions include new “voluntary” meal standards that will set new nutritional standards for all school meals, including foods sold in vending machines and during fundraisers; plus more reporting, training, and certification requirements.
NSBA is also concerned about the indirect costs for program operations, maintaining buildings and equipment, and the possibility of increased administrative salaries due to the new requirements.
One school board member said her small, rural district only paid its food service director $11 an hour — not enough to attract someone who has a college education or higher career prospects.
The new law also will regulate the amount charged for unsubsidized cafeteria meals. The federal government will require school districts to raise any “artificially low” prices or cover the difference with non-federal funds.
“Sometimes you might want to make [school lunches] affordable for other kids who might be low income but not qualify for free and reduced-price lunches,” said Shek.
Overall, NSBA wants school boards to share their stories of successful programs with Congress. “Improving health and wellness of kids really is a local effort.”
The deadline to comment on the proposed regulations is April 13. For more information, go to www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-01-13/pdf/2011-485.pdf.