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Letter to the Senate on FY15 Agriculture Appropriations Bill

June 16, 2014

Dear Senator: 

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association (NEA), and the students they serve, we write to you today to reaffirm our support for the school meals nutrition standards set out in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, ahead of debate on the FY15 Agriculture Appropriations bill (S. 2389) as part of the larger “mini-bus” to be considered this week, including Appropriations for Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-HUD.   The Agriculture Appropriations bill that passed out of committee proposes some moderate adjustments to school meal requirements without rolling back important nutrition standards, and we urge your support for the measure. Votes associated with this issue may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 113th Congress. 

Child nutrition and school meal programs play a vital role in combating child hunger, promoting wellness and preparing students to learn.  The nutrition standards set out in the bipartisan Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act have had widespread, positive impacts on children’s access to healthy foods during the school day.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that over 90 percent of schools are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards. The result being a healthier school environment with more nutritious food options for students.    

NEA believes that proper nutrition is essential to child development and student success.  The clear link between good nutrition and learning is evident in schools across the nation every day. According to the Nutrition Cognition Initiative at Tufts University, continuous low nutritional intake affects factors such as motivation and attentiveness, which can have a negative impact on learning. 

Nearly 500,000 of our members are Education Support Professionals (ESPs), many of whom are food service professionals who prepare school meals, maintain a safe and healthy learning environment, and help students learn about and practice healthy nutrition and eating habits.  Food service professionals, like NEA member Roselyn Green, a cafeteria bookkeeper at Lester Elementary School in Florence, S.C., work every day to help meet the goal of providing nutritious meals to students.  According to Roselyn, her school is serving more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in every meal and fewer foods high in sodium and saturated fats, thanks to the new standards.  These food service professionals have also been instrumental in helping their students make healthier food choices as well. 

Although we believe no action on school nutrition standards is necessary in the appropriations bill, the FY15 Agriculture funding bill includes reasonable compromise language supported by a bipartisan vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee that would only delay the stricter sodium limits that are set to become effective in 2017 and require the USDA to conduct a study on whole grain products. This language maintains the integrity of the current nutrition standards and allows reasonable flexibility to ensure that the standards can be implemented properly.   

We urge you to oppose any amendments that may be offered that would undermine these important nutrition standards, and we urge your support for the underlying bill.   

Sincerely, 

Mary Kusler
Director, Government Relations