So many parents have complained that school meal portions are too meager—and that their children are hungry and tired by the end of the school day—that Congress is beginning to pay attention.
That’s one of several developments that are keeping policymakers busy more than two years after passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, said Lucy Gettman, NSBA’s director of federal programs.
Speaking at a Saturday briefing to NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) in Washington, D.C., Gettman told urban education leaders that the new federal rules on school meals that went into effect this year caused “quite a buzz.”
Although some expected the biggest complaint would center on inadequate financial support for new and costly mandates, Gettman said the most notable criticism has focused on the size of federally reimbursable school meals as mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Designed as a tool to combat the nation’s childhood obesity problem, the strict calorie limits on meals has prompted tens of thousands of letters and phone calls to members of Congress.
“Parents, students, and other citizens were giving their members of Congress an earful,” Gettman said, noting that one online music video mocking the meal rules has gotten more than 1 million viewers.
The protests prompted the House Committee on Education and Workforce to send a letter asking the U.S. Government Accounting Office to look into the impact of the new law and the USDA rules.
In the letter were a “pretty thorough list of questions, and I think it will really be helpful to Congress once they get a report back,” Gettman said. “It can guide Congress on future policy.”
The public outcry already has prompted the USDA to grant schools some relief in meeting federal guidelines, she added, “but the relief is only temporary” as that the rules were waived only for the rest of this school year.
Another issue still unresolved is what federal standards will exist for “competitive foods”—food sold in vending machines or at concession stands at school athletic events, Gettman said. Those rules—which USDA has yet to release in draft form—could affect the revenue that schools use to support athletic, food-service, and other programs.
School policymakers also are waiting for draft rules concerning the training and certification of food-service personnel.
USDA has indicated it’s going to do “everything in its power so that these standards won’t be costly,” Gettman said. “But the proof is in the pudding.”