First they came for our french fries. Then they came for the whole lunch. Now they come for our snacks. Is nothing sacred any more?

Much has been written about the USDA’s attack on school lunches. The leading spokeswoman and apparent instigator of this program, First Lady Michelle Obama, has gotten her fair share of negative press on the low calorie, low flavor, low popularity lunches schools are now required to serve if they want federal money to supplement their lunch programs (e.g here) . All true, but it was the cost to play and schools knew (mostly) what they were signing up for when they applied for the federal lunch dollars.

Now the USDA wants control of ALL food sold in schools so they are going after the off lunch menu items like snacks. Vending machines have been removed or restocked with items that meet the federal guidelines for nutrition. School stores have had to stop selling pop tars and rice crispy bars. Gretchen wrote a great piece about the insanity of those guidelines.

The latest assault comes on food sold for fundraisers in school.  The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, from which these new guidelines come, says that the intent of the law is to “keep decisions at the local level or promote student health and to reduce childhood overweight by targeting obesity risk factors of physical inactivity and unhealthy eating.” At the beginning of the 2006-7 school year local school districts were required to have a local Wellness Policy in place to meet these objectives.

But the law didn’t just apply to the school store candy sales or vending machines. It also applied to school fundraisers that sell food. The Smart Snacks standards allow state agencies to develop a policy on the number of exemptions for food fundraisers that do not meet the nutrition standards. If the state did not report a specific number of exempted days, the default number would be zero, according to the law. There was no limit placed on the number of exemptions a state could make and no consequence for any number that the state chose.

DESE sent out a survey to Missouri school administrators asking their preference for the number of exemption days. The problem with the survey was that the highest number they could choose was five. Through  administrative memo DESE, citing the biased survey,  set the maximum exemption days for things like food fundraisers to five.

Note that states likes Oklahoma and Tennessee set the maximum number of days to 30. This is a per building exemption. Limiting such sales in an elementary building may not be challenging. However, when you consider all the student groups vying for money in the typical high school, you can begin to see where problems would arise. Only the first five groups to get their application in would be approved for a fundraiser for the entire year if they sold food that did not meet the guidelines. Given how well the food that meets the guidelines is selling in the school lunch program, you can see why altering the product to meet those guidelines would work against the purpose of the fundraiser.

This limit has already hurt Missouri schools. There were several fundraisers that schools ran whose profits went to purchase basic items that the buildings could not afford that were directly tied to education. In other stances the profits went to benefit needy families in the district.

A parent in one school district told me –

“We used to sell bagels on Thursdays and muffins on Monday mornings before school as a character connection class project to raise money.  The money was used to purchase meals for our 9 or 10 neediest families during the holidays. It was also used to buy food to send home with students on weekends so they wouldn’t go hungry.  At Christmas, it would supplement their staff adopt a family program to fulfill the wishes of some of our needy families.

This year we had to actually turn families away due to lack of funding as a direct result of this law.”

Yes, bagels do not meet these guidelines. I’m sure lots of you were picturing the chocolate candy bar sales and thinking, “Well it wouldn’t be the worst thing to stop selling those giant candy bars.”  Bagels folks. Those don’t meet the guidelines. Selling them once a week would “promote risky behavior.”

Today at noon the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee will consider HB1111 sponsored by Rep Dean Dohrman. The bill calls for the state to set the maximum exemption days to 30. For those that like limiting the days further, there is nothing stopping your local school board from imposing further restrictions and they will own that decision.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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