Letter to the Senate Agriculture Committee on the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010
March 23, 2010
On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association, including 278,000 food service personnel working in the nation’s K-12 schools, we would like to offer our views on the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (S. 1650), scheduled for mark-up in the Agriculture Committee this week.
NEA members know first-hand that hungry children cannot learn, and that access to an adequate and healthy diet is essential to academic success. The clear link between good nutrition and learning is evident in classrooms across the nation every day. Yet, far too many children lack consistent access to an adequate, nutritious diet.
We are pleased that S. 1650 recognizes the importance of school meals and attempts to strengthen and streamline these critical programs. We commend the Committee for looking for ways to connect more low-income children with school meals, reduce paperwork that acts as a barrier to participation, and improve the overall quality of foods available to our nation’s schoolchildren. These efforts will make a real difference in improving child nutrition and health and ensuring that all children come to school ready to learn.
Funding for School Meals
We believe that S. 1650 offers an important step toward increasing access to and participation in school meals programs, by providing a record investment of new support for the National School Lunch Program. We are concerned, however, that the bill does not provide similarly increased resources for other programs supporting low-income children and their families, including the School Breakfast program. Providing students all the tools necessary for academic success — including a nutritious breakfast — is particularly critical given the current emphasis on student testing and the link between student performance on mandated tests and corrective actions/sanctions for schools. We hope Congress will continue to look for additional sources of funding for a more robust child nutrition reauthorization.
We are very pleased that S. 1650 expands universal meal service through community eligibility — allowing schools in high-poverty areas to offer free meals to all students without collecting paper applications. We believe this will make a real difference in ensuring that our most vulnerable students receive the adequate, nutritious diet necessary for health and academic success. We urge Congress to consider expanding universal meal service to schools designated as low-performing under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as not all such schools may qualify under the provisions in S.1650. Reducing barriers to participation in school meals programs in such schools is an important element in raising student achievement. We hope Congress will look more closely at this issue in the reauthorization of ESEA.
We support provisions in S.1650 that would establish national nutrition standards for all foods sold on the school campus throughout the day. While school meals must meet federal nutrition standards, foods sold individually outside the meal programs, such as those available in vending machines, are not required to meet comparable nutrition standards. Thus, students can purchase soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks, salty snacks, candy, and high-fat baked goods throughout the school day. S. 1650 will help address the threats to child health and nutrition posed by unregulated access to low-nutrition foods on school campuses. All food and beverages sold or provided on a school site must, for consistency, meet the standards.
Food service workers work tirelessly every day in school cafeterias. As a group, these professionals are dedicated to their schools, their students, and their communities. Eighty-four percent of these workers live within the boundaries of the school district by which they are employed. On average, they have been working in the profession for 11 years. Ninety percent plan to stay in the field in the future, and 74 percent plan to stay until retirement. Notably, but not surprisingly, these workers also volunteer to educate children in the community. Thirty- two percent have volunteered time to support a parent education association. Twenty-four percent have volunteered to coach or support a sports program. Twenty-one percent have volunteered to read books to students.
NEA and our food service worker members strongly support efforts to enhance the profession, including providing training opportunities for workers to strengthen their skills and learn new ways to provide nutritious school meals. We are pleased that S.1650 includes provisions regarding training. We do, however, have questions regarding implementation of these provisions, including how trainings will be developed and who will pay for them. We particularly support training programs designed collaboratively with stakeholders to ensure they meet the needs of workers and the students they serve. We look forward to working with Congress to clarify these provisions.
NEA strongly opposes efforts to outsource school food service jobs. We believe that food service workers with strong roots in the communities in which they work can offer the best service to our nation’s children.
We thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments. We look forward to working with you on these critical issues as the legislation moves forward.
Director of Government Relations