July 22 2013

Nationwide Federal School Lunch Opt-Out

Vicki E. Alger

Last month GAO Education, Workforce, and Income Security Director Kay E. Brown testified before a House Education and Workforce subcommittee about the effects of 2010’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. She testified that:

Meat and grain restrictions make it difficult for schools to meet mandated calorie minimums. As a result, many schools added ‘gelatin, ice cream, or condiments such as butter, jelly, ranch dressing, or cheese sauce to become compliant’ (p. 7).

Other non-savory meat and veggie mandates have made it tough for school to comply—and tough for students to stomach. Consequently, garbage cans are fuller than students’ bellies—and all that waste (p. 13) leads to hungry kids and strained budgets.

As the Heartland Institute’s School Reform News reports:

Approximately 200 school districts across the country have opted out of federal lunch requirements, leaving them free from regulations Michelle Obama pushed in 2010, but without federal subsidies for school lunches. …

The act will cost taxpayers another $3.2 billion over its first five years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. Districts are reporting fewer students purchasing lunch and costly equipment upgrades to cook the new menu. …

Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake district in New York served 22 percent fewer lunches and lost about $100,000. ‘That was upsetting to everybody – the board of education, the school lunch manager,’ said Christy Multer, a district spokesman. …

Parents are an important part of keeping kids healthy, Multer said.

‘The question becomes: What’s the role of the parent to ensure that each child is exposed to a wide variety of vegetables for their health versus the role of the school district?’ she said. ‘Schools also have an obligation to work with parents to ensure that. We need to involve parents in that.

Helping hungry children is one thing—but that doesn’t mean the federal government is best suited for that. Local philanthropies, parent volunteers, and religious charities can and do have a role to play in helping provide nutritious food to families in need. Local approaches are better suited to success than top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates from Washington.

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