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National School Boards Association Celebrates National School Lunch Week: New Poll Validates Concerns about Federal School Meals

October 13, 2014

Alexandria, Va. (Oct. 13, 2014) – With the start of National School Lunch Week today, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) is calling for flexibility and relief from the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to address the unintended consequences of onerous requirements for federal school meal programs in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

NSBA’s survey of school leaders shows that since that law went into effect in 2010, 83.7 percent of school districts saw an increase in plate waste, 81.8 percent had an increase in cost, and 76.5 percent saw a decrease in participation by students.

To address the issues, 75 percent of school leaders encourage an increase in federal funding for school districts to comply with the new standards and 60.3 percent support additional flexibility for school districts to improve their ability to provide good nutrition without harm to instruction, personnel, and other school district operations.  

“As we celebrate National School Lunch Week, we must address the visible realities of complying with school nutrition requirements,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “Our poll shows that school leaders are in favor of good nutrition for children but concerned with the unintended consequences of the current federal regulations. Trays of uneaten cafeteria food thrown in the trash, hungry kids, and struggling school food-service programs are the practical realities many school districts and students face.”

NSBA supports flexibility that would allow communities to feed their students healthy food that also reflects school districts' unique needs, resources, and circumstances. Using sound nutrition as a base and their communities as partners, districts can serve healthy food that students will eat -- not throw away and go home hungry. Other options supported by school districts include:

  • Evaluating and responding to the challenges of rural districts;
  • Delaying competitive foods standards for items sold outside the school meal programs
  • Permitting smaller portions of new or unfamiliar foods to encourage students to try new things; and
  • Permitting temporary waivers of some requirements for struggling school districts.

Providing more technical assistance to districts received the least support from those responding to the poll.

“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,” said Gentzel. “Students need healthy meals and adequate nutrition to achieve their potential in school, and school board members are committed to ensuring all students are prepared to learn. However, school boards cannot ignore the higher costs and operational issues created by the rigid mandates of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.”

NSBA’s poll reveals the alarming choices faced by school districts in response to these challenges. Increasing the price of unsubsidized meals, dipping into reserves and other school district funds, delaying investments in equipment, facilities, and other necessities, and reducing staff and hours, are just a few of the alternatives school districts have had to do. NSBA therefore supports the temporary waiver option in HR 4800, the FY 2015 funding bill for the Department of Agriculture. NSBA also supports the Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act, HR 3663, sponsored by Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota. The legislation would provide options for school districts struggling to comply with some of the more problematic mandates of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

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The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is the leading advocate for public education and supports equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership. NSBA represents state school boards associations and their more than 90,000 local school board members throughout the U.S. Learn more at: www.nsba.org.

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