The Government Is Cracking Down on School Bake Sales

States are trying to circumvent federal nutrition standards that would limit sugary foods at school fundraisers.

National Journal
Marina Koren
July 25, 2014, 10:23 a.m.

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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