Well, I thought my own home state of Texas was pretty backward, what with our new Agriculture Commissioner’s plan to bring deep fat fryers back into our schools, but now this news comes out of Arizona: the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Diane Douglas, has just announced that she intends to use the “bake sale” loophole in the federal Smart Snacks rules to allow Arizona’s schools to fundraise with junk food every single day of the school year.
Douglas is quoted in Tucson Weekly as saying:
“Forcing parents and other supporters of schools to only offer federally approved food and snacks at fund-raisers is a perfect example of the overreach of government and intrusion into local control. I have ordered effective immediately, that the ADE Health and Nutrition Services division grant exemptions for all fund-raisers for both traditional public schools and charter public schools.”
As you may remember, during the 2010 deliberations over the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, the legislation which eventually led to the Smart Snacks rules, right wing politicians like Sarah Palin and conservative outlets like Fox News were erroneously claiming that the law would “ban bake sales at schools.” Sensing a public relations disaster on his hands, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote a letter to Congress reassuring legislators that the USDA would “consider special exemptions for occasional school-sponsored fundraisers such as bake sales.” He later also wrote a piece for the Huffington Post to inform the public that:
USDA has given states complete authority to set policies on fundraisers and bake sales that work for them. States are free to allow fundraisers and bake sales featuring foods and beverages that don’t meet the new standards during the school day if they choose. They, not USDA, are responsible for determining the number and the frequency of these events each year.
Since the Smart Snacks rules went into effect last summer, some states have used this discretion in a measured way, either by disallowing all junk food fundraising or granting just a few days a year for such sales. But in conservative-leaning states, the Smart Snacks loophole has given politicians the perfect vehicle to show their general disdain for federal regulation, regardless of the consequences for student health.
Georgia, for example, allows 30 three-day fundraisers, which amounts to one-half of the school year. But the state that’s really giving Arizona a run for its money in this perverse competition is Oklahoma, which now allows 30 fundraisers a year, each lasting up to 14 days . . . or 420 days a year. (Way to go, Oklahoma! You’ve not only flouted federal rules but also the principles of basic math!)
When I was given my opportunity to “interview” USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon late last year, I asked him about this very issue. My question was:
The Smart Snacks rules have been a huge step forward in getting junk food off of school campuses. However, as you know, when the rules were in draft form, the USDA floated two competing proposals for “exempt fundraisers.” In the first proposal, states would have had to seek USDA approval of whatever maximum number they chose, while in the second proposal, states would be given complete discretion, with no federal oversight. The USDA opted for the latter, and now some states are exploiting this loophole to the fullest. For example,Georgia recently voted to allow its schools to hold 30 junk food fundraisers a year, each lasting up to three days, which means any junk food may be sold to Georgia kids during the school day for fully one-half of the school year. What do you think about states like Georgia and, in retrospect, does the USDA now regret giving states so much autonomy?
Mr. Concannon’s reply:
. . . .USDA has provided flexibility for states to manage fundraisers at the state level. This is a local decision, as USDA understands that fundraisers are time-honored traditions that support local school activities, including class trips, athletic programs and the purchase of school supplies. States also have the flexibility to modify their fundraising policy at any time during the school year should they wish to do so, or in future years. USDA/FNS has been and will continue to work with our State partners to reach out to schools and other stakeholders in the school community to provide training, technical assistance and resources to ensure that they understand the new rules, and have the tools and information they need to succeed.
In other words, a non-answer answer.
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