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House Bill Takes Aim at Healthy School Meal Rules

By guest blogger Nirvi Shah

The U.S. House's just-passed agriculture appropriations bill whacks spending for many federal food, nutrition, and agriculture programs, and House members included language that could undo parts of last year's Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

In January, the USDA issued proposed changes to the composition of school meals that will cost billions to put into place over time. For that reason, groups including the American Association of School Administrators, the Council of the Great City Schools, and the National School Boards Association opposed the law.

Earlier this year, some House Republicans labeled parts of the new law "government overreach."

Although not included in the text of the bill, the spending plan is accompanied by report language, essentially a nonbinding recommendation, asking the USDA to come up with a new set of nutrition standards for meals that wouldn't cost districts more money.

The way the current law is written, the USDA would pay for some of the increases in cost, but districts would have to foot part of the bill or charge students more for meals.

Some House Democrats, including George Miller of California, took issue with the proposal.

"For millions of children, the meals they eat at school serve as a nutritional safety net—denying these children healthy options at school is just another example of House Republicans choosing to prioritize oil companies and big business instead of the children who need our help the most," he said in a statement.

However the NSBA applauded the measure.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act "is a hollow promise to our children when it comes at the expense of the education that will help them to succeed," wrote Michael Resnick, an NSBA associate director, in a letter of support for the report language. "School districts have already closed buildings, terminated programs and laid off teachers due to eroding local, state and federal resources. Every dollar in unfunded mandates in the child nutrition reauthorization must come from somewhere else in the educational system and result in more layoffs, larger class sizes, narrowing of the curriculum, elimination of after-school programs, and cuts to other program areas, including school food services."

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