Senior Legislative Analyst, AASA
In September, AASA was thrilled to bring three members to a roundtable discussion with U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Jay Burkhart (South Western School District- Hanover, Pennsylvania), Mervin Daugherty (Red Clay Consolidated School District- Wilmington, Delaware) and Lee Ann Wentzel (Ridley School District- Folsom, Pennsylvania) were joined by members of the National School Boards Association, the Council of Great City Schools, and the School Nutrition Association. We met with the Secretary for a full hour, telling him how his team could best improve school-based nutrition programs through regulations. He was interested in our suggestions, often clarifying with his staff that suggestions would be possible. We hope the conversation leads to broader regulatory changes and much-needed flexibility in the nutrition regulations.
Our suggested changes reflect our understanding that proper nutrition is critical for children's ability to learn and our support for the great work that has already been done in districts around the country to adapt to the 2010 meal standards. We asked the Secretary for a few changes that would lower costs and waste while keeping most of the standards intact. Facing increased costs, lower participation rates, and increased plate waste, many districts would benefit from a few common-sense fixes.
First, we are asking the Department to change the fruit/vegetable rule from requiring each student to take ½ cup of fruits/vegetables to offering ½ cup of fruits/vegetables – if the student has no intention to eat it, he should not be required to take it.
Second, we requested a permanent change in the whole grain requirement back to 50% for all schools. The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act bumped that to a 100% requirement. Every year, the Department has issued a one-year waiver for which districts can apply. We suggest that this is burdensome and makes long-term planning difficult. We are asking for this requirement to be lowered for all districts.
Third, we addressed what has proven to be a difficult policy to implement and explain. We requested the Department to allow all foods served in the reimbursed line to be served as an a la carte item. We understand that it has proven difficult to explain to students why some people can have an item, while others cannot.
We will continue to meet with USDA staff and will encourage the Secretary to address these issues in his proposed regulatory changes. Please be ready to weigh in when any are proposed – we will need your voices in support of common-sense changes!