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SD senators enter school lunch fray

After receiving input from South Dakota school administrators, parents and students, U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., has pressed the Obama administration on changes to school nutrition programs.

While Johnson is supportive of a science-based approach to meal planning, he is concerned with the lack of flexibility South Dakota schools have in implementing the changes, his office said in a news release this week.

"I want to make sure South Dakota school administrators, parents and students have their voices heard on this issue," Johnson said in a written statement.

"We need to ensure our students have healthy meals at school, but there needs to be flexibility to accommodate the needs of our school districts."

Johnson sent a letter outlining his concerns to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., was among the 11 senators, including Johnson, to sign the letter. Seven are Republicans and four are Democrats.

In September, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., sent a letter to Vilsack requesting more information on the new standards.

In October, she followed up with another letter to Vilsack, this time with the Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn.

On Oct. 31, Noem, along with Reps. Kline and Roe, requested a Government Accountability Office study on the new school lunch standards.

A GAO study could help determine the on-the-ground impacts of the new standards so Congress can determine the next steps on how to best address the challenges, she said at the time.