Barely a month after federal regulations for school cafeterias kicked in, states are already pushing back.
Specifically, they're fighting nutrition standards that would considerably alter one of the most sacred rituals of the American public school system: bake sales.
Twelve states have established their own policies to circumvent regulations in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that apply to "competitive snacks," or any foods and beverages sold to students on school grounds that are not part of the Agriculture Department's school meal programs, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education. Competitive snacks appear in vending machines, school stores, and food and beverages, including items sold at bake sales.
Georgia is the latest state to announce an exemption to the federal regulations, which became effective July 1 for thousands of public schools across the country. Its rule would allow 30 food-related fundraising days per school year that wouldn't meet the new healthy nutritional standards, which call for more healthy options and less junk food that could contribute to the nation's child-obesity problem.
The pushback is not about students' taste buds, but their wallets. Food fundraisers are a crucial source of revenue for schools, state education officials say. "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," the Georgia Department of Education wrote in a recent press release. "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."
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The statement called the federal guidelines on fundraisers "an absolute overreach of the federal government."
Tennessee also plans to allow 30 food-fundraising days that don't comply with federal standards per school year. Idaho will allow 10, while Illinois is slowly weaning schools off their bake sales, hoping to shrink them from an annual 36 days to nine days in the next three years. Florida and Alabama are considering creating their own exemption policies.
State-level resistance to the healthy-eating regulations has support in Washington. This spring, Republicans tried to delay implementation of new school cafeteria requirements by one year through a proposed 2015 Agriculture Department spending bill.
Proponents of the requirements, meanwhile, have scoffed at Georgia's suggestion of a War on Brownies. "Pushing back on so-called federal government overreach by allowing a huge number of unhealthy school fundraisers is not only bad politics, it's irresponsible, puts children's health at risk, and undermines parents' efforts to feed their children healthfully," Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest told Politico on Friday. "There are plenty of healthy fundraising options that are practical—and as or more profitable than selling junk food."
Sure, they could be practical. But are they delicious?
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