A suburban Chicago school superintendent has obtained permission from his board of directors to withdraw from the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
David Schuler, who runs Township High School District 214 in Arlington Heights, IL, told Boston public radio station WBUR that his district will be better off without the approximately $900,000 from federal taxpayers it’s been getting from participating in the NSLP.
The reason is that, by cutting the strings with NSLP, the Illinois school district will also free itself from regulatory burdens recently imposed by Congress, and, some are quick to add, First Lady Michelle Obama. The First Lady was a big promoter of the 2010 Healthy Hungry Free Kids Act, which Congress passed to have USDA impose new nutritional standards in as many as 100,000 schools eligible to participate in the NSLP.
While Superintendent Schuler does one of the better jobs of articulating why his district has fired USDA, a federal government report not long ago noted that the Illinois district may not be that unusual. USDA’s regulatory snarl is so severe that both the number of students and school districts enrolled in the NSLP are down. Estimates are that as many as one million fewer students are enrolled in the NSLP today than at its peak when the Hunger Free Kids Act was adopted.
The think tanks and other groups involved in nutrition are clearly worried that local political pressure is going to bring changes in Congress, and that could begin to happen as early as this week. It pits local districts, which have concerns about the massive food waste being generated daily by following the regulations, against groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which says that 90 percent of the districts do comply with federal dictates.
It should be pointed out that there are many parts to this and side agendas such as Maine potato farmers wanting more of their product served in schools. However, Township High’s withdrawal raises the possibility that the NSLP has gone into permanent decline. The overall debate is probably best followed through those involved such as the School Nutrition Association, which wants changes, and CSPI, which is circulating a petition supporting the status quo.
This issue is going to get attention in Congress beginning this week and continuing into the summer. It will be interesting to see if, in the long run, districts voting with their feet become more important than the rulemakers. In this space, we’ve previously gone on record about the immoral amount of food waste being experienced at schools in the NSLP because of pointy-headed regulations requiring kids to take food they have no intention of eating.
If this was intended as an experiment in behavior modification, it ain’t working. Making changes to reduce food waste are not “weakening” the regulations, and don’t say it’s part of a “big food” agenda because that makes no sense. Congress just needs to focus on what works.
The Arlington Heights, IL, district will continue its free and reduced meal offerings. It plans to recoup the lost $900,000 in federal money through a la carte sales and new offerings. The district anticipates that withdrawing from the NSLP will keep more kids on campus for lunch.
Schuler says that those who wrote the NSLP regulations had “wonderful intentions,” but they just don’t work in the real world.
Here are some of the highlights of the WBUR interview with the superintendent:
Why the district withdrew from the NSLP.
“We just decided that with the regulations required for the new food lunch program, our students were not going to be eating the food, they were going to be throwing the food away. And we’re close enough with our high schools that kids could leave the campus, walk across the street to a fast food restaurant or a convenience store, where they’re going to be purchasing food that’s much less healthier than we can offer in the district. So we’re going to be offering very healthy, well-balanced, nutritious meals, but just ones that also taste good.”
Why the NSLP is not working for students.
“It really comes down to the amount. You know, like, a hard-boiled egg can no longer be served because it’s too high in fat. Skim milk over 12 ounces can’t be served. The portion sizes are much smaller than in the past. So for high school athletes who are looking to eat and be full, it’s just not working for us.”
On how to help students make good choices in their diets
“We would rather provide an educational experience for our students for when they go through the lunch line. So what they will see is every food that they can choose from will have a green, a yellow or a red dot. Green means totally healthy, you can eat as much as you’d like. Yellow means, you know, maybe two or three servings a week. Red, you can have this, but only every now and then. Rather than just leaving campus and going and buying a bag of chips or grabbing a burger at the fast food restaurant, helping educate them from a nutritional standpoint.”© Food Safety News