It’s hard to believe Booker is about to wrap up his freshman year of high school. How do they grow up so fast? As his attention – and that of students, teachers and parents across the state – turns to the last day of school, many school administrators are already shifting their focus to the next school year’s first day, making decisions that will impact everything from the classroom to the lunchroom.
For years, parents and students have come to me with concerns about the federally regulated food that’s landing on kids’ trays each day. We all want our kids to be healthy and happy, but current restrictions leave many students – and their school’s budget – hungry.
The Obama administration put unprecedented mandates on school meals. Meat and grains were strictly limited, for instance. Initially, if schools were to avoid going over the limits, these particular regulations were so restrictive that students could only be served the equivalent of three chicken nuggets or so a day, although we were able to pressure the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) into granting some flexibility in this area.
Moreover, the sodium restrictions laid out as part of the upcoming Target II requirements only promise more challenges. In fact, the levels are mandated to be so low that milk and cheese would become difficult to serve on account of the naturally occurring sodium in those foods.
As a result of the endless restrictions, many schools have seen participation in school meal programs decrease, food waste increase, and costs rise. In some cases, schools are beginning to look at digging into classroom budgets just to make their meal programs solvent.
At the same time, the consequences for ignoring the rules are severe: schools would risk losing critical federal funding.
While I am grateful the Trump administration has recently announced support for flexibility beyond what President Obama ever allowed, schools need full relief from the regulatory burden – and they need that relief to be granted with the certainty of law.
Earlier this month, I introduced new legislation that returns control of school meals to states and local school districts. More specifically, my legislation would turn the current mandates into non-binding guidelines. This way, schools could use the USDA’s recommendations as a resource in designing healthy options for kids, but there would be no requirement to follow the guidelines, if they didn’t work for students.
I firmly believe decisions that affect our kids are best made by those closest to our kids. With a nationwide scope, federal bureaucrats have made choices for our families based on faceless statistics, boiling down their calculations into one-size-fits-all requirements. But the parents, local school administrators, school nutritionists and cooks who see our kids every day observe the real-life impact of the food that lands on our kids’ trays. It’s them that I trust with these decisions, which is ultimately what my legislation is all about.