The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to evaluate the financial impact the federal school nutrition law and proposed regulations will have on school districts and give waivers to school districts that prove the financial and regulatory burdens are insurmountable.
Having overstepped its regulatory authority, the USDA should also eliminate a proposed regulation that would subject all foods available in school—including those that are not sold on the school campus during the school day, such as treats brought from home for birthday parties–to meet the strict nutrition guidelines consistent with competitive food standards.
NSBA’s recommendations are part of comments to the USDA on its proposed regulations for the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which requires schools to serve healthier meals and severely restricts the sale of high-fat, high-calorie foods but does not reimburse school districts for the much higher costs they face.
NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel pointed out in the April 28 letter that school board members are deeply committed to fostering a healthy and positive learning environment for children to achieve their full potential, and NSBA has participated in First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Active Schools campaign.
“It is therefore disappointing to see yet another set of requirements from the Department that extends federal overreach at the expense of local school districts and the children they serve,” Gentzel wrote in the letter.
New cumbersome and costly reporting and recordkeeping requirements threaten to further diminish school districts’ abilities to operate their food services departments on sound financial footing.
NSBA also urges the USDA to propose a separate rule on the marketing of foods and beverages.
The USDA has proposed a sweeping plan that would regulate the types of foods and beverages that can be marketed on school property, although NSBA notes that the federal law only allows the USDA to regulate the marketing of foods included in the National School Lunch Program and the federal school breakfast program.
“Congress has not given the [USDA] the authority to regulate the marketing of foods that are not part of those food service programs,” the letter states. Furthermore, NSBA does not believe that the law “permits the Department to restrict through regulation or otherwise how a school district interacts with its vendors and community sponsors through its advertising of various foods and beverages, and finds that the proposed definition of marketing offered by the Department is too sweeping and will result in unintended consequences for school districts and students.”
The USDA should also clarify, if the proposed food marketing rules are not deleted or changed, that those rules would not require school districts to breach existing contracts with their vendors, which could lead to litigation and liability, NSBA says.