WASHINGTON, D.C. | April 15, 2015
Healthy meals are vitally important to a child’s education. It’s just basic commonsense that if a child is hungry then he or she is less likely to succeed in the classroom and later in life. That is why our nation has long invested in services that provide low-income students nutritious meals in schools. Those services are authorized through a number of laws, such as the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act.
In just a few short months, these laws and the programs they authorize will expire, including the national school lunch and breakfast programs, the Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children or WIC Program, and several others. It’s the responsibility of this committee and Congress to reauthorize these programs so that students and families receive the support they need in the most efficient and effective way.
Why is that important? Because no child should go to school hungry – it’s that simple. Today’s discussion is not about whether we agree on this basic principle; I am confident we all do. Instead, our discussion today is about beginning a larger effort we will continue in the coming months to ensure the best policies are in place to help reach this goal.
Last week, I had an opportunity to tour a school lunchroom at the Prior Lake High School in Savage, Minnesota. Students and faculty described what’s working and what isn’t working in federal nutrition programs. As a result of our conversation, two important realities are abundantly clear.
First, our school nutrition professionals are dedicated men and women doing the best they can under difficult circumstances, and no one should question their commitment to providing students nutritious meals. Unfortunately, rules and regulations put in place in recent years have made their jobs harder, not easier. The cost of the lunch and breakfast programs for schools are going up, yet fewer meals are being served. In fact, the number of children participating in these programs is declining more rapidly than any period over the last 30 years.
Second, as we reauthorize these programs, we have to provide more flexibility at the state and local levels. Those working in our schools and cafeterias recognize that this has to be a priority. Even students understand the urgent need for more flexibility.
During my visit to Prior Lake High School, I talked with a number of students about their school lunch program. Right now, the federal government determines the number of calories, vegetables, and grains that are served to students, which means Washington is dictating how much food every child is served at every school meal. That is one reason why students are urging the school to drop out of the program. Many children are bringing food from home or buying more food because the portion sizes served at school are too small for a full meal. As one student, Corinna Swiggum, noted, “A lot of times, we’re going back and getting junk food, not healthy food.”
This isn’t what these children want. This isn’t what their parents or school administrators want, and it’s not what we want either. We have to find a better way forward, one that continues our commitment to providing nutritious meals for America’s students, while giving state and school leaders the flexibility they need to make it a reality.
That is why we are delighted to have you here today, Mrs. McAuliffe. Through your work, you are demonstrating that promoting healthy lifestyles is not just a federal priority, but a state and local priority as well. Often we are told we need more federal involvement because states can’t be trusted to help those in need. But through your leadership, you’re showing states can take the lead on tough issues in partnership with the federal government.
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