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Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act

 

The Advocate, May 2016
Leslie Finnan, Senior Legislative Analyst
AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Children who are healthy and well fed are best suited to learn. AASA is a strong advocate for child nutrition – through our work on school breakfast, health insurance and coordinated school health among many other projects, we support the whole child and help our members ensure that their students are all given the best shot at a healthy lifestyle.

However, the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act put in place burdensome regulations that have harmed the ability for many districts to run efficient and effective school nutrition programs. As Congress is working to reauthorize this bill, we are working to strengthen these nutrition programs through added flexibilities and support.

AASA supports a comprehensive reauthorization of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act – one which addresses the challenges stemming from the 2010 law. Superintendents throughout the country have complained of decreased participation, increased cost, increased food waste and unhappy students. School food service directors have complained of increased administrative burden, limited ability to serve the foods their students eat and difficulty finding products that fit the regulations. AASA is not looking to repeal the standards completely – too much good work has been done already. Instead, we have been asking for some common-sense changes to increase the flexibility, and allow schools and districts to best serve their students.

The shining star of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act is the Community Eligibility Provision. This provision, now in its second year nationwide, allows schools or districts with 40 percent or more of their students identified as in poverty to serve breakfast and lunch to all students in the school or district without taking applications. This provision has proven very successful in increasing participation, decreasing administrative burden and improving the well-being of children. Besides removing any barriers to accessing the food, Community Eligibility also removes the stigma attached to free meals. As AASA member Morris Leis said at a Congressional briefing, “This prevents embarrassment for some students and puts all (children) on an even playing field when it comes to getting their meals.”

In the winter, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed a bill, which AASA opposed. It did not do much to increase flexibility and included a requirement for increased verification of student eligibility that would significantly increase administrative burden and cause some students to lose their access to meals.

The House is currently considering a bill that would have mixed implications for superintendents. It requires all nutritional standards to be reviewed with an eye on cost and participation as well as nutrition – this would ensure that school meals are both healthy and practical. However, it also includes a similar provision for increased verification of eligibility as well as a change in the Community Eligibility Provision, which would cause 7,000 schools to lose their current eligibility.

We are continuing to work with Congress to ensure that any reauthorization of this bill reflects the needs of superintendents around the country. While healthy meals are essential for our students’ success, it is crucial that we allow local districts to best serve their students. We hope a reauthorized child nutrition bill reflects this need.

Find AASA’s positions on this bill and other child nutrition issues on The Leading Edge blog.