The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) final rules for nutrition standards for the school lunch and breakfast programs still fail to provide adequate funding for schools, NSBA says.
The USDA estimates that the new rules will cost schools an additional $3.2 billion to implement, a more than 50 percent decrease from its initial $6.7 billion estimate. However, NSBA is concerned that the new estimate is based on faulty accounting.
“Much of the reduction is derived by delaying implementation of some of the costliest standards, including changes to the School Breakfast Program, whole grain requirements, and sodium targets,” said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant in a written statement. “Even so, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that less than half of the $3.2 billion cost will be covered by the performance-based reimbursement rate increase of 6 cents per lunch.”
The new standards, part of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, require schools to offer more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lower-fat meat and protein options and restrict foods that are high in sodium, fat, or sugar.
NSBA supports community-led moves to bring more nutritious and locally grown foods to school cafeterias and has highlighted many examples of schools that have done so through its conferences, publications, and awards programs.
The increased costs from a federal mandate will only add to schools’ and communities’ budget problems, though, Bryant added.
“By splitting the difference, a 35-cent increase per lunch for a family with two children adds up to $125.00 in the first year alone,” she said, citing USDA estimates that show 1.6 million school-age children come from households with incomes just higher than the above eligibility for free or reduced-price meals, which is a household income of 185 to 200 percent of poverty level or $43,500 to $44,700 for a family of four. “The few dollars a week more a family would have to pay could price those meals out of reach,” Bryant said.
The USDA reported that it received an “unprecedented” 132,000 public comments on the proposed standards. First Lady Michelle Obama promoted the changes as part of her “Let’s Move!” campaign to help students and families eat healthier meals and exercise.
NSBA has continuously advocated for more funding to support the new requirements, noting that the additional costs come at a time when schools are being forced to lay off teachers and other staff and cut programs. Last year NSBA supported report language passed by the House as part of the agriculture appropriations bill that directed the USDA to propose new rules that do not create unfunded mandates for school districts.
The USDA also plans to issue new rules for foods sold in vending machines, bake sales, and other venues.
“Not only are these activities outside the legitimate scope of federal government regulation, they provide much needed funds for school athletics, field trips and other programs that are in jeopardy given the current budget crisis for schools,” said Bryant.