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Letter to the House Ed & Labor Committee on the Child Nutrition Mark-up

July 14, 2010

Dear Representative:


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 express our support for the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act (H.R. 5504), 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 thank the Chairman and Committee for crafting a bill that reflects the importance of school meals and attempts to strengthen and streamline these critical programs.  We commend you 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
The Chairman’s mark 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.  Providing students all the tools necessary for academic success, including access to an adequate, nutritious diet, 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.  Additional resources even beyond the investments in the Chairman’s mark would help ensure successful implementation of the important initiatives in this reauthorization.  We look forward to working with Congress to ensure the most robust child nutrition programs possible. 

Universal Access
We are very pleased that the bill 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 support efforts to expand universal meal service to schools designated as low-performing under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Reducing barriers to participation in school meals programs in such schools is an important element in raising student achievement. 

School Breakfast Expansion
We are pleased that the Chairman’s mark includes grants to expand school breakfast programs.  Educators know very well the importance of a good breakfast in a successful school day.  Students who come to school hungry are not prepared to concentrate and learn.  We support an amendment to be offered by Representative Chu (D-CA) that would include schools identified as in need of improvement under ESEA as priorities for school breakfast expansion grants. 

Nutrition Standards
We support provisions in the bill 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.  The Chairman’s mark 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.

Professional 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 strongly oppose any efforts to outsource school food service jobs, as food service workers with strong roots in the communities in which they work can offer the best service to our nation’s children.  We are very pleased, therefore, that the Chairman’s mark includes provisions regarding training for food service workers.  We particularly support 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 how trainings will be developed and who will pay for them. 

Other Issues
As the bill moves forward, we hope to work with the Committee and the full House to ensure that reauthorization does not cause any untended increase in the stigma associated with participation in free and reduced price school meal programs.  We also look forward to working with you to address the unique needs of rural schools and communities in accessing grant programs, including those that promote healthy eating habits. 

We thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments.  We urge support for this important legislation and look forward to continuing to work with Congress to ensure every student access to the nutrition so vital to academic success. 

Sincerely,

Kim Anderson         
Director of Government Relations     

Mary Kusler
Manager of Federal Advocacy