Remember those new “Smart Snacks in Schools” rules that set nutritional standards for what some schools offer students in places like vending machines, a la carte lines, and student fundraisers? Turns out some states that don’t like the new rules have taken advantage of a loophole in the policy, making massive an exception that was designed to be limited in scope, according to a story in USA Today.
The first-of-their-kind rules, effective July 1 for schools participating in the National School Lunch Program, are designed to bring a consistency to the school day for students, many of whom formerly chose between a healthy lunch in the main line of the cafeteria and a plate of greasy nachos covered in processed cheese from the a la carte line. But many schools complained that reining in on unhealthy offerings would also cut into fundraising profits from things like bake sales and snack sales. So the policy, which was set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, allows each state to set an annual number of fundraisers that each school can exempt from the nutritional standards. If a state opts not to set a number, no fundraisers are exempt.
As this school health policy page from the National Association of State Boards of Education shows, many states have opted to set no exceptions for fundraisers. Others have set small exemptions: Colorado will allow three fundraisers each year that don’t meet the nutritional guidelines, Indiana will allow two per year, and Kansas will allow one per semester, to name a few.
Enter Georgia and Tennessee.
After openly criticizing the federal nutrition policy, the Georgia state board of education approved a policy that will allow schools to exempt 30 fundraisers. That’s a lot of peach pies. And Tennessee’s state board also voted to exempt 30 fundraisers. That’s a lot of ...um ... whatever baked good is really popular in Tennessee.
From a statement by Georgia’s education department:
These new federal guidelines limiting food and beverage fundraisers are an absolute overreach of the federal government. Tough economic times have translated into fewer resources and these fundraisers allow our schools to raise a considerable amount of money for very worthwhile education programs. While we are concerned about the obesity epidemic, limiting food and beverage fundraisers at schools and school-related events is not the solution to solving it. We have faith in our local schools to make good decisions on behalf of children. That is why we have initiated this rule that gives schools the maximum flexibility in determining how many food and beverage fundraisers they choose to hold. We welcome the public's feedback during this review period."
I’m working to track down other states’ exemption policies to see if there are any other notables. What has your state decided to do?
Bonus! Take a fun quiz to see if you can guess which popular school vending machine snacks fall within the new nutritional guidelines.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.