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Articles tagged with USDA

School boards urge USDA to provide substantial flexibility in school meals proposal

School lunch

NSBA is encouraging the USDA provide   flexibility on school meals

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) supports the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to delay or waive implementation of some of the more difficult provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. However, NSBA considers USDA’s School Strike Force draft proposal to provide targeted assistance to a limited number of school food authorities insufficient to fully address the difficulties inherent in the implementation of the law.

In a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, NSBA made recommendations to the Strike Force proposal including clarification regarding where in school districts the proposal applies, whether there is a the net gain in resources available, plus the need to defer to local school district governance practices.

NSBA has frequently observed that school meals are provided in the larger context of school district operations that are frequently ignored. In order to restore an accurate perception and understanding of the impact of school meal policy from USDA, the focus on SFAs must be transparent and decisions made in a manner consistent with school district operational procedures already in place.

NSBA has spoken out previously through formal comments; implementation of USDA rules on school meals must acknowledge the cumulative impact of multiple regulatory actions on school districts. Additionally, implementation must reverse policies that redirect state and local funding to the SFA from elsewhere in the district, require school districts to increase prices to students and their families, result in the elimination of staff and services in the SFA or the district as a whole, or regulate school district activity beyond the SFA.

“The law must remain cost neutral to school districts; either by increasing federal funds available to cover increased costs or by regulating in such a way that compliance is possible within current reimbursement rates, including waivers or other temporary measures to allow schools to comply,” said the National School Boards Association’s Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel in the letter.

Alexis Rice|August 5th, 2014|Categories: Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Legislative advocacy, Nutrition, Wellness|Tags: , , |

The “unintended consequences” of federal school meal regulations

Check out the National School Boards Association’s Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel’s reflecting on the real impact and the challenges that public schools still face on implementing federal school meal regulations in a commentary published by The Huffington Post:

When did a politically driven view of school nutrition begin to overtake visible realities? Trays of uneaten cafeteria food thrown in the trash. Hungry kids. Struggling school food-service programs. Peel back the good intentions and the celebrity-fueled support of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, and you’ll see the practical realities many school districts and students face. Legislation enacted without a practical understanding of its consequences truly fails America’s public schoolchildren.

That’s why the National School Boards Association (NSBA) is asking Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to address the unintended consequences of the Act.

The real story of school districts trying to put nutrition regulation into practice has been drowned out by the political noise surrounding the issue. Some have suggested that those who want to grant schools much-needed relief have partisan motivations. Others make the specious claim that local school officials do not want to do the work of raising nutrition standards.

It is time to set the record straight: School districts are committed to providing healthy meals to students, and NSBA has actively and long supported the federal school nutrition program.

At the time of the law’s passage in 2010, however, NSBA expressed concerns about the significantly higher costs likely to be associated with the new mandates. The stricter nutritional standards — as well as other new regulations issued by USDA — are cost-prohibitive for many already cash-strapped school districts.

It’s hard to imagine the law’s vocal supporters intended that it would result in student boycotts of school lunches, higher meal prices, food wasted or discarded, and school districts scrambling to identify funds to comply with unfunded regulations. Political outrage does not match up with “on-the-ground” reality: Declining participation in the meal programs means that many students are underserved, while others are simply going hungry.

The realities are clear to ordinary Americans in local communities: Unfunded mandates in the law are placing an untenable burden on America’s public school districts and America’s public schoolchildren. Even food outside the school meal program — including snacks in vending machines or cupcakes sold at school fundraisers — must adhere to costly new nutrition standards.

For many students, school lunch is their only meal of the day. We owe it to children, parents and communities to think through the practical aspects of how laws are implemented. Drawing attention to these issues is not part of a campaign by school districts to avoid complying with the law. Overly rigid and unrealistic federal mandates undermine the ability of school districts to do what the law intends: prepare and serve nutritious food that enables America’s public schoolchildren to grow, learn and thrive.

It is incumbent upon us to apply reason to the debate. This is why NSBA supports temporary waivers and other reasonable measures to restore local flexibility and authority to school districts struggling to comply with the rigid and unrealistic provisions of the law.

NSBA also applauds the USDA’s decisions to delay or waive implementation of some of the law’s more onerous provisions, and the recent effort by Secretary Vilsack to initiate an honest exchange of opinions among various national organizations with an interest in this key policy issue. This issue calls for thoughtful deliberation and compromise, not shrill political rhetoric.

Alexis Rice|July 30th, 2014|Categories: Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Food Service, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Nutrition|Tags: , , , , , |

NSBA discusses school lunch concerns with USDA

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) was one of 16 organizations that met today with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Under Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Concannon, and “Let’s Move!” Executive Director Sam Kass to discuss problems implementing new regulations for school meals stipulated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFK) and methods for improving child nutrition. Lucy Gettman, NSBA’s Director of Federal Programs, represented NSBA to call for recognition of the impact of the legislation on school district budgets and operations.

Gettman thanked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for “including school district governance in this conversation and for taking a leadership role in convening this group of stakeholders, many of whom have never been convened as a group before. Hopefully, this will be the first of several conversations.”

School boards and administrators have struggled to implement HHFK’s provisions, which require districts to serve school meals meeting strict nutritional and portion guidelines that many children find less filling and less palatable. School districts are reporting more food waste and lower rates of participation in school meal programs, and must cover unfunded cost increases somehow, usually through staff and program reductions.

In addition to school meal requirements, the law also has provisions for competitive foods that went into effect July 1, 2014. Forthcoming requirements include training and education standards for school food service personnel, and expanded requirements for local school wellness policies, further affecting districts’ operations and bottom lines.

Gettman urges policy makers, “Be mindful of the cumulative effect of these requirements across school systems that are also implementing Common Core State Standards, Elementary and Secondary Education Act waivers, trying to administer assessments, trying to get a highly-effective teacher in every classroom, and make sure that ‘the wheels of the bus go ‘round and ‘round.’ We have to work together to make sure that it all fits together and works together, and that the child nutrition reauthorization isn’t having an impact on the rest of the educational system that isn’t supported financially and that doesn’t acknowledge local authority and control.”

Representatives from the following organizations were in attendance:

• Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
• Alliance for a Healthier Generation
• American Academy of Pediatrics
• American Heart Association
• Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
• Center for Science in the Public Interest
• Food Research & Action Center
• Mission: Readiness
• National Education Association
• National Food Service Management Institute
• National Parent Teacher Organization
• National School Boards Association
• Pew Charitable Trusts
• Public Health Institute
• School Nutrition Association
• United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association

Margaret Suslick|July 10th, 2014|Categories: Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Food Service|Tags: , , , , , , , |

School boards call for more sensible school nutrition rules

school lunch

NSBA is calling on Congress and USDA to allow schools flexibility to meet new mandates

As school districts are bearing higher costs and more rigid requirements for school meals, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) is calling on Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow schools flexibility to meet new mandates.

New regulations for the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act that take effect July 1, 2014 will further restrict school districts’ abilities to offer a variety of palatable foods for their students. In a press teleconference yesterday, NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel noted that the layers of new federal regulations were hampering the goals of the federal school nutrition programs.

For instance, the 2010 law requires schools to increase and analyze the nutritional content of foods not only sold in school cafeterias but also vending machines and other school venues not a part of the federal school meal programs. The law also requires new training and educational standards for food service workers.

“We now see that new reporting and compliance requirements are unfunded and otherwise problematic,” Gentzel said. “School boards now are asking for relief from some of the most inoperable regulations and unintended consequences.”

“School boards across the country know the importance of a healthy school meal,” said NSBA President Anne M. Byrne. “Our schools see many students who do not get good nutrition at home and do not have a steady and dependable supply of healthy foods.”

Students whose families serve less nutritious, low-quality foods are more likely to be obese, added Byrne, a member of the board of the Nanuet Union Free School District in New York and a retired registered nurse. In Nanuet, elementary school students are wasting a lot of nutritious food, such as whole-grain bread, because they are unfamiliar with it, she said.

Byrne and Katy Smith Campbell, President of the Alabama School Boards Association, noted that the new regulations will ban chocolate milk, even though their schools serve low-fat versions. Both agreed they would rather children drink chocolate milk than go without.

“There are no provisions for extra servings,” said Campbell, a member of the Macon County Board of Education in Tuskegee, Ala. “In many cases that’s not enough, especially for athletes.”

The federal law is similar to state regulations, which Alabama districts found have taken several years for students to get used to eating healthier fare. However, Smith-Campbell noted that the federal regulations are more restrictive.

Rocky Ahner of Lehighton Area School Board in Pennsylvania noted that his district began offering low fat, low sugar foods in 2010, and saw their lunch totals tick upwards. However, when the more stringent federal requirements went into effect, the district lost $110,000 because students who were eligible for free- and reduced-price lunches no longer wanted them.

“We are concerned about the kids who don’t buy lunches,” he said.

Joetta Sack-Min|June 24th, 2014|Categories: Federal Advocacy, Legislative advocacy, Nutrition, School Boards, School District Reorganization|Tags: , , , , , , , |

NSBA encourages U.S. House to support flexibility and regulatory relief for school meals

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is encouraging the U.S. House of Representatives to support for local school district flexibility and modest regulatory relief for school meal programs in the FY 2015 Appropriations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

NSBA supports two important measures in the legislation that the House will consider on June 11, 2014:

• Appropriation of $25 million for school meal equipment grants, which will help schools prepare and serve healthier
meals, and improve food safety.
• NSBA also supports a provision requiring the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a process by which a
State shall grant a temporary waiver from compliance with national nutrition standards.

Read the full letter NSBA sent to members of the House today.

Alexis Rice|June 10th, 2014|Categories: Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Food Service, Legislative advocacy|Tags: , , |

USDA oversteps authority with new school nutrition regulations, NSBA says

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.

Joetta Sack-Min|May 1st, 2014|Categories: Educational Finance, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Food Service, Nutrition, School Boards, Wellness|Tags: , |

NSBA calls proposed food service rules “a direct federal intrusion” into local governance

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to revise proposed rules for school breakfast and lunch programs, saying the regulations “represent direct federal intrusion into workforce policy, which is determined by school boards, teachers, administrators and other stakeholders at the local level.”

In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, NSBA President Thomas J. Gentzel said that while NSBA “acknowledges and applauds” the agriculture department’s involvement of stakeholders, including NSBA, in drafting standards for supervisors and staff in school nutrition programs, NSBA wants to ensure that “educational systems are supported, not undermined, by unfunded mandates or under-resourced requirements.”

The proposed regulations represent further interpretation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed by Congress in 2010. Among the requirements would be for school nutrition program directors to have at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent, with a concentration in food and nutrition or related subjects, or a bachelor’s degree and a state-recognized certificate in food or nutrition or a related field. These qualifications would be required for all districts, regardless of size.

Commenting on the regulations, Gentzel wrote: “The standards indirectly disrupt market forces that impact availability and recruitment of qualified staff, and compensation practices for already cash-strapped districts.”

The proposed rules also require at least 15 hours of annual training for new and current nutrition directors, 12 hours of training for new and current managers, and eight hours of training for new and current staff. NSBA also asked that the department eliminate a rule requiring eight hours of training for food service workers within the first 30 days of their employment.

“Training should not be required until employees have completed their probationary period, or are otherwise considered permanent,” Gentzel said.

Alexis Rice|April 2nd, 2014|Categories: Food Service, National Standards, Nutrition|Tags: , , , , |

NSBA secures time to assess school district impact of new regulations for food sold in schools

Following the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) release of their new Interim Final Rule on Nutrition Standards for All Foods Sold in School, the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel issued this statement:

“NSBA praises USDA’s decision to follow NSBA’s recommendation to issue an Interim Final Rule rather than a Final Rule. NSBA will carefully be reviewing the Interim Final Rule for financial and operational impact on school districts.

“America’s school boards are deeply committed to fostering a healthy and positive learning environment for children to achieve their full potential. Most school districts have already taken meaningful steps to improve the quality of foods available from vending machines, a la carte lines, and other non-National School Lunch Program sources.

“Yet, we must acknowledge the budget and labor constraints that school districts already face in light of sequestration and the ongoing fiscal crisis for our schools, communities, and states. At a time when education is acknowledged as a priority for America’s success and competitiveness, it is imperative that federal policy—including implementation of the child nutrition regulations—assures that educational systems are supported, not undermined by unfunded mandates or under-resourced requirements. School nutrition programs simply cannot be successful unless the school districts providing them have sufficient resources and local authority to administer them effectively.

“NSBA expressed concerns about the draft Rule during the public comment period and submitted a letter on April 9, 2013 to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. NSBA’s recommendations encouraged an Interim Final Rule be developed to review the financial and operational impact and unanticipated consequences of the new standards to reflect a better understanding of on-the-ground impact before a Final Rule is issued.

“NSBA will provide additional feedback to the USDA to urge that this and all other provisions of the reauthorization will not challenge America’s schools with a new funding burden at a time when there are critical budget shortfalls.”
– See more at:

Alexis Rice|June 28th, 2013|Categories: Federal Programs, Food Service, Nutrition, Wellness|Tags: , , , |

New federal nutrition rules caused a ‘buzz’

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.”

Del Stover|January 27th, 2013|Categories: CUBE, FRN Conference 2013, Leadership Conference 2013, Legislative advocacy, Nutrition, Obesity, Urban Schools|Tags: , , , |

New USDA regulations present challenges to urban districts

Some challenges confront urban school districts seeking to comply with the new, more healthy oriented regulations mandated for school meals by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

It turns out that some kids don’t like the healthier cafeteria fare—and won’t eat it. Parents complain that strict, new calorie portions are too stingy for high school students—and their children are going hungry during the day.

Finally, school food-service directors are warning that cooking healthier meals is more costly than the additional 6 cents that USDA has promised to help comply with its new mandates.

Yet school districts are finding ways to cope, a panel of school board members and school food-service experts told urban leaders attending a Saturday workshop for NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE).

The session was an Early Bird offering of NSBA’s Federal Relations Network (FRN) Annual Conference, which starts today in Washington, D.C.

Convincing students to eat the new daily portions of fruits and vegetables mandated for federally reimbursed school meals—as well as other healthier fare—requires a calculated redesign of school recipes and changes in food preparation, panelists said.

Virginia’s Hampton City Schools are working with local restaurant chefs to learn new preparation techniques and relying on student taste-testings to find recipes that will win over students, said school board member Monica Smith.

The district also is seeking to change student attitudes by educating them about nutrition, as well as revamping cafeterias with smaller serving lines and a more aesthetic, restaurant-oriented appearance that makes the school meal experience more appealing, she said.

Improving menus and cutting operational costs will require more professional development—and not just for managers and cooks, added Amy Virus, assistant food-services director for the Philadelphia Public Schools. Under new USDA regulations, school meals are not federally reimbursable if students don’t have the mandatory fruit and vegetable servings on their food trays—and the cafeteria staff has to stay atop of student choices.

“It’s a huge change for us,” she said. “For our cashiers, for our line staff … so we’ve really focused on training, talking about new meal patterns.”

The USDA is reconsidering the controversial calorie counts it imposed on school meals, but the cost issue remains a challenge to be overcome, panelists say. Some school districts are complaining the price of healthier foods is proving greater than the additional financial support provided by USDA.

A drop in participation can exacerbate the challenges created by rising costs, a phenomenon reported by some school lunch programs. But, in Hampton, Smith said, food-service personnel are looking for ways to cut costs—and have managed to increase in participation as cafeterias fine-tune their healthier fare to meet student tastes.

So healthier school meals aren’t necessarily a negative—simply a new challenge that requires new practices, panelists said. But school boards can make a big difference in whether these challenges ultimately are met.

Boards need to set the priority, put district wellness programs in place, and hold food-service personnel accountable, Smith said. But also “listen to the trained staff and give them the flexibility to do the job … let them be creative [while] we show our support.”

Del Stover|January 27th, 2013|Categories: CUBE, Food Service, FRN Conference 2013, Leadership Conference 2013, Legislative advocacy, Urban Schools|Tags: , , |
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