Oct 19, 2012 -
This week I hosted a Nutrition Summit in Jonesboro to shed light on an extremely important issue that has impacted students in Arkansas and across the Nation. In recent weeks I have spoken to numerous teachers, coaches and parents about new rules from the Department of Agriculture concerning nutrition standards for school lunches. The new standards cut drastically the number of calories students can consume on a daily basis.
New nutrition standards were part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that was passed shortly before my time in Congress. As a Member of the Agriculture Committee’s Nutrition Subcommittee, I have watched closely as the USDA has worked to implement the new law, and I can say firsthand that they have not done a very good job. USDA is now in the business of determining the amount of calories, fat and sodium students should consume in a given school day. It is now up to the Agriculture Secretary to tell schools what types of food they are allowed to serve in their cafeterias. Secondly, even by conservative estimates, the new rules will cost up to $6.8 billion over a 5 year window, which schools will mostly have to come up with on their own. When we are dealing with issues that burden our schools, it is important to keep in mind that any additional costs come from already scarce resources. Instead of focusing these resources in classrooms to provide a quality education, schools are being forced to divert resources towards complying with unfunded federal mandates.
Since the beginning of the school year, my office has heard numerous complaints about the new school lunch program from students, teachers, parents, coaches, and school administrators. The new regulations institute a strict top-down approach by imposing blanket calorie and sodium maximums, dictating the types of fruits and vegetables kids can eat, and requiring kids to take food they end up throwing away. Ironically, these rules eliminate many of the most popular and well-accepted vegetables by restricting corn, potatoes, and peas to only one cup a week.
While I will always be committed to providing our students with healthy and nutritious meals, the new standards simply are not working, and are leaving our kids hungry and unable to focus in school. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was well-intentioned, but the Nutrition Summit highlighted the fact that its effect on schools has opened the door to massive amounts of unintended consequences. I will be delivering the findings from the Nutrition Summit to the Secretaries of Agriculture and Education and to the White House in hopes that we can reexamine the rules and look for ways to keep students full and performing at their maximum potential.