It’s National School Lunch Week and it’s no surprise that the School Nutrition Association (SNA) and its allies are taking this opportunity to press their case for gutting federal nutritional requirements that would make school food healthier.
The National School Board Association (NSBA), long aligned with the SNA on these nutritional roll-backs, yesterday released the results of a survey of 650 school leaders which reportedly found that, since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act regulations went into effect, “83.7 percent of school districts saw an increase in plate waste, 81.8 percent had an increase in cost, and 76.5 percent saw a decrease in participation by students.”
The NSBA doesn’t share its survey methodology so we have no idea whether the 650 individuals surveyed were self-selected (and therefore might have more of an axe to grind over school food regulations) or whether the phrasing of the survey questions in any way skewed the results.
But let’s take the NSBA survey at face value for a moment.
Amid the disturbing data about plate waste and lowered participation, which will surely garner a lot of media attention, an interesting statistic emerges. According to the survey, a whopping “75 percent of school leaders encourage an increase in federal funding for school districts to comply with the new standards,” while 15% fewer of those surveyed support the “flexibility” (SNA’s favorite buzzword for: “gutting of regulations”) which the SNA is now doggedly pursuing on Capitol Hill via its high-powered lobbyists.
Ironically enough, in an “urgent message” SNA sent to its 55,000 members this week to discourage them from signing an open letter supporting healthier meal standards, the organization reassured school food professionals that it welcomes their “thoughts and concerns.” But now a survey conducted by SNA’s own ally clearly identifies a “concern” of fully three-quarters of the school food professionals surveyed: they would like more funding for healthier school meals.
So why isn’t the SNA, their only voice on Capitol Hill, doing anything about it?
Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokesperson for the SNA, previously told me that the SNA made the decision long ago to refrain from asking Congress for more money:
Although SNA is emphasizing the extremely limited funding under which school meal programs must operate, members of Congress and their staff on both sides of the aisle from key authorizing committees have made it extremely clear that additional funding will not be available for child nutrition programs as part of reauthorization.
I agree that getting more funding out of Congress would be very hard. It always is. But the SNA — before it launched its misguided effort to roll back healthier school meal standards – was once aligned with many widely respected voices which would have strongly supported such a request, including the American Medical Association, the Children’s Defense Fund and the retired, four-star military leaders behind Mission Readiness, to name only a few. The association also would have been backed by a still-hugely popular First Lady, one with a powerful megaphone. It could have relied on a recent peer-reviewed study finding that kids are actually adjusting well to healthier school food, data which supports staying the course, instead of putting itself in the incredibly awkward position of having to dispute that study. And, perhaps most importantly, it could have come to Congress armed with new data showing that the vast majority of American parents — on both sides of the political divide – want healthier school food.
Instead, SNA squandered all of that political capital and took the easy way out. It is now deeply entrenched in its strategy to roll back school meal standards, an effort that’s likely to intensify in the coming year as the school food law comes up for reauthorization in Congress. If Republicans, many of whom are allied with SNA in this effort, win control of the Senate this fall, we may well see decades of work on school food reform go up in smoke. That this outcome would be the handiwork of the very people entrusted to feed our children makes it all the more distressing.
If you are a current or former SNA member who believes your leadership is on the wrong track, please take a moment to sign and share this letter.
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