Federal

Nutrition Group Lobbies for More Free School Meals

By Christina A. Samuels — March 13, 2007 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

More than 600 school nutrition professionals took to the halls of the Capitol last week, lobbying legislators and their staff members in favor of a bill that would allow more poor children to receive free school meals.

The Reduced Price School Meal Pilot would allow five states to experiment with eliminating the “reduced price” category for school lunches and breakfasts. Currently, families eligible for reduced-price lunches must pay 40 cents for lunch and 30 cents for breakfast for their children.

Even that cost is too much for some families, particularly if they have to pay for more than one child, said representatives from the 55,000-member School Nutrition Association attending its 35th annual legislative-action conference.

Congress has authorized, but not yet funded, the pilot program, which would cost $23 million over three years. About 9 percent of children in the school lunch program are in the reduced-price category. Free- and reduced-price meals make up almost 60 percent of all lunches served through the federal program.

“Every day, our SNA members are confronted with children who cannot afford the fee,” Janey Thornton, the president of the association’s board of directors, said in her testimony March 6 before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. The committee hearing was scheduled to coincide with the nutrition group’s lobbying efforts.

‘Competitive Foods’

The senators did not discuss the issue at the hearing. On another issue concerning school nutrition, however, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the committee, introduced a bill last week that would create a federal standard for food sold outside the cafeteria, as in vending machines. Right now, restrictions on those “competitive foods” are made at the state or local level.

“School breakfast and lunch programs adhere to strong guidelines, but as soon as students leave the cafeteria, they are inundated with the overpromotion of junk food in vending machines and snack bars,” Mr. Harkin said in a statement. The SNA supports his bill.

Ms. Thornton told the senators that when the 24,000-student Salt Lake City school district eliminated the reduced-price fee, making meals either full-price or free, lunch participation rose 50 percent and school breakfast participation rose 300 percent.

Congress needs to pay for the pilot program to determine “once and for all whether it is the fee, as opposed to some other variable, that is keeping these low-income children from the program,” said Ms. Thornton, who is the child-nutrition director for the 14,000-student Hardin County school district in Elizabethtown, Ky.

Members of the SNA also turned their attention to a long-term goal: The creation of a national nutrition standard for all food sold in schools, which would go beyond Mr. Harkin’s proposal. States, counties, and some individual school districts have adopted their own nutrition standards in order to battle childhood obesity. Those standards often apply not just to food sold in the cafeteria, but to vending-machine sales, food sold in school stores, and even treats given out in classrooms by teachers.

But good intentions have led to a patchwork of different standards that have made it difficult for food producers to keep up, according to food-industry leaders and school nutrition experts. If a food producer is required to produce different chicken nuggets to meet several state standards, it drives up costs for everyone, they say.

“It’s starting to get crazy,” Ms. Thornton said in an interview. “We’re finding that even within states, local districts are setting additional standards.”

But such a national standard likely would not be in place before 2009, when the National School Lunch Program is up for reauthorization. Ms. Thornton said the association will gather information from its members and other experts so it can recommend a standard to replace the requirements now in place.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which manages the school lunch and breakfast programs, also would be sure to weigh in, she said. The focus for last week’s legislative lobbying session, she said, was just to bring the issue to the attention of lawmakers.

Though revisiting the school food program is a couple of years years away, smaller programs that affect schools are within the 2007 farm bill now under consideration in Congress.

Among the programs included in that bill is the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which provides those foods daily to children in 375 schools in 14 states. The program costs about $15 million a year, and the nutrition association would like to see it expanded, said Teresa Nece, an SNA member who also testified before the Senate committee.

Before the program started in her district, many of the children had never seen a whole, unsliced pear, said Ms. Nece, the food and nutrition director for the 31,600-student Des Moines, Iowa, district. Now, children are eating pears, berries, fresh pineapple, and jicama, a starchy legume.

The nutrition association also favors more assistance with the school breakfast program.

Under the lunch program, in addition to monetary reimbursement from the federal government, schools receive about 18 cents worth of food for every school lunch, such as beef patties, peanut butter, and canned and fresh fruit.

Breakfast programs, however, receive no such commodity food. The association is advocating 10 cents worth of commodity foods for each breakfast served, to make it more cost-effective to offer breakfast.

A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2007 edition of Education Week as Nutrition Group Lobbies for More Free School Meals


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal New Federal Team to Work on Puerto Rico School Improvement, Oversight
The Puerto Rico Education Sustainability Team will focus on creating better learning environments and improving financial management.
3 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits the Emilio Delgado School in Corozal on June 30, 2021 during a visit to Puerto Rico.
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits the Emilio Delgado School in Corozal on June 30, 2021 during a visit to Puerto Rico.
Teresa Canino Rivera/GDA via AP
Federal Pandemic Tests Limits of Cardona's Collaborative Approach as Education Secretary
He's sought the image of a veteran educator among former peers, but COVID has forced him to take a tough stance toward some state leaders.
10 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during their visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during a visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Federal White House Launches Hispanic Education Initiative Led by Miguel Cardona
President Joe Biden said his administration intends to address the "systemic causes" of educational disparities faced by Hispanic students.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona writes down and draws positive affirmations on poster board with students during his visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits students in New York City at P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school in the Bronx last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Federal Feds Add Florida to List of States Under Investigation Over Restrictions on Mask Mandates
The Education Department told the state Sept. 10 it will probe whether its mask rule is violating the rights of students with disabilities.
3 min read
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP