Since the beginning of the school year I have heard from numerous teachers, coaches, and parents about new rules from the Department of Agriculture concerning nutrition standards for school lunches. The new standards drastically cut the number of calories students can consume on a daily basis. In October I hosted a Nutrition Summit in Jonesboro to shed light on the issue and to learn how the new requirements have impacted students in Arkansas and across the Nation.
At the Nutrition Summit, school officials talked about the increased costs the nutrition standards place on school districts. Parents said their children had to take snacks to school because the smaller portion sizes did not keep their children full. 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.
Thankfully, this week the Secretary of Agriculture made comments about loosening the requirements on school districts. This comes as welcome news to folks in our district and I am proud that our Nutrition Summit helped pave the way for change. Even by conservative estimates, the new rules will cost up to $6.8 billion over a 5 year window, which schools would 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.
As a parent of two young children I am committed to providing our students with healthy and nutritious meals. However, the new standards simply are not working. News that the school lunch requirements will be loosened is a win for cash-strapped schools in Arkansas. I would like to thank the parents and teachers who spoke out at our Nutrition Summit about the negative effect the nutrition mandate is having on young people here at home. The Nutrition Summit is proof of what can be done to change federal requirements and return common sense thinking to Washington bureaucracy.