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Education Leaders: Restore ‘Local Leadership and Flexibility’ to Child Nutrition Programs

The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), today held the latest in a series of hearings on federal child nutrition programs. The hearing provided members an opportunity to learn from state and local education leaders about how federal regulations are affecting school lunch and breakfast programs across the country. Members and witnesses discussed the compliance costs associated with existing policies, the burdens placed on schools, and opportunities to improve these programs.
   
“We all know the important role healthy food plays in a child’s education. We cannot expect children to learn or excel in the classroom if they are hungry or are not properly nourished,” said Chairman Rokita. “The question we want to answer today is: are federal policies giving you the tools and flexibility you need to succeed in implementing child nutrition programs so that your students can succeed in the classroom?”

Unfortunately, Washington’s expanded role in K-12 cafeterias has made it more difficult for schools to implement child nutrition programs. Witnesses described the challenges they face serving students healthy meals, citing substantial decreases in program participation and increases in food waste and administrative burdens.

"We’re too busy checking boxes to do the work of ensuring more students receive nutritious meals,” South Dakota Secretary of Education Melody Schopp said, noting that several districts have already dropped out of the school meals programs due to onerous compliance regulations. John Payne, President of Blackford County School Board of Trustees, added students in his district – 55 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced price meals – “are opting out [of the programs] or declining to eat food that lacks appeal.”

North Carolina Chief of School Nutrition Services Lynn Harvey echoed these concerns. “Despite a demonstrated desire and capacity to meet the new requirements, compliance has come at a significant cost for schools and more important, for our students,” Dr. Harvey stated, citing a five percent decline in student participation – approximately 13 million fewer meals served – over the last two years.
 
“The clear solution to these programs is local leadership and flexibility,” Mr. Payne advised. “When local school districts have the authority and flexibility to make adjustments honoring the spirit and intent of the law, they can provide students with healthy, nutritious, and appetizing meals.”

As the committee works to reform these programs to better meet the needs of students, Dr. Schopp urged members to “reduce the complexity and burden put on state agencies seeking to comply with the law and allow states to focus on what’s most important: finding the most efficient ways to get the most nutritious meals to students.”

“It’s time to provide those responsible for implementing child nutrition programs with the flexibility they need to ensure taxpayer dollars are well spent and students are well served,” concluded Chairman Rokita. “I am confident learning from your experiences, observations, and recommendations will inform our efforts to accomplish just that.”

To learn more about today’s hearing, read witness testimony, or to watch an archived webcast, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.

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