It’s just common sense: healthy students make better learners, and school meals are an opportunity for children to receive more than half of their daily nutrient needs. Ensuring children have access to nutritious foods in schools is critical to their success.
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Education and the Workforce Committee will hold a markup of the House’s child nutrition reauthorization bill, titled the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003), at 11 a.m. on May 18.
National PTA and many school nutrition advocates are concerned with the House bill in its current form as some of the provisions are expected to roll back years of progress toward healthy and nutritious school meals. The following are just a few of the provisions in the House bill that would negatively impact your child’s access to healthy foods in schools.
The House bill would roll back nutrition standards at your school
The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) was passed by federal lawmakers in 2010 to improve the nutritional value of all foods and beverages sold in schools. HHFKA requires a school lunch to include a fruit or a vegetable, whole-grains and low-fat dairy products. It also sets limits on calories, fats, sodium and sugar content. To date, the United States Department of Agriculture has reported that 98.5% of schools are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards. National PTA has helped further these efforts in schools through our Healthy Lifestyles program and Healthy School Meals Grants. However, the House bill would roll back these efforts by allowing popular foods in certain regions of the U.S. (such as biscuits, grits, white rice and others) to be exempt from the whole grain requirements as well as delaying the implementation of sodium reduction targets in school meals.
The House bill would allow school fundraisers to be less healthy
National PTA has also been working with schools to implement healthy and nutritious fundraisers that adhere to the Smart Snack guidelines that went into effect in 2014. PTAs across the country have been working hard to improve school meals and other food items sold during the school day. Thus, PTA cannot support the House bill’s language that would exempt school fundraisers from the Smart Snack guidelines when countless schools have proven to hold successful fundraisers that are healthy and nutritious, such as selling healthy snacks at school stores and school-wide run-a-thons.
The House bill would restrict access to school meals in low-income neighborhoods
The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) was included in HHFKA to allow schools and districts with high poverty rates to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students who attend that school or district. This has reduced the administrative burden on schools and the stigma children and families face while participating in the free and reduced-price school meals program. The House bill would hinder access for 7,000 schools and millions of children from receiving healthy school meals by increasing the eligibility requirements to participate in the program. Find out if your child’s school would be effected by this provision by visiting this searchable database.
The House bill would limit the number of times your school can contact families and encourage them to participate in the school meals program to only twice per school year
This provision in the bill is of great concern to PTA as one of our founding principles is our dedication to engaging families in their child’s education, which research has shown improves student outcomes. Limiting the amount of communication a school may have with families on any issue is detrimental to the school environment and student learning. Parents and families have a right to know what school-based opportunities are provided to their child throughout the year, which includes the health and nutrition of their child.
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Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.