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School Meal Changes Targeted by Some House Republicans

By Nirvi Shah — May 13, 2011 2 min read
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Is the federal government’s plate too full? Some members of a U.S. House subcommittee on Friday said yes, connecting the conservative view that government has gotten too large with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act passed in late 2010 with bipartisan support.

The law will require sweeping changes to what’s served at school breakfasts and lunches, to the delight of many child health advocates. But national education organizations, including the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association, were critical of the legislation because of the price tag that comes with the changes.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated the changes will cost $6.8 billion over five years in food and labor. Some districts would have to buy new kitchen equipment. Proposed regulations would require schools to serve more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, and less sodium, and bans flavored milk unless it is fat free. All schools must provide water at lunch. And the contents of vending machines and other food sold on campus will also be regulated. But school districts would be left to pay for much of the increase in costs the law would trigger.

The issue was discussed at a hearing today of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education entitled “Examining the Costs of Federal Overreach into School Meals.”

“Despite concerns raised by school administrators, taxpayers, a bipartisan coalition of state governors, and leaders of the nation’s school boards, the previous Democrat majority pursued a massive and costly expansion of the federal government’s role in child nutrition,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who is chairman of the subcommittee. “We should reject the false choice between our support of child nutrition and the critical need to rein in the size and cost of the federal government.”

Aside from cost, school food directors who spoke at the hearing worried about wasted food and a drop in the number of students who eat meals at school.

After the hearing, House Democratic leadership questioned the purpose of the hearing.

“House Republicans voted to end Medicare, repeal affordable health care, and slash educational opportunities for disadvantaged children. Are healthy meals for kids in school next on their target list?” asked U.S. Rep. George Miller of California, the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

“We cannot move backwards,” added Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee. “Our country and our children cannot afford that.”

Many of the law’s provisions have yet to go into effect because the U.S. Department of Agriculture is still in the midst of proposing regulations, collecting comments, and finalizing the act’s requirements.