New rules that are being implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—authorized under the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010—require all foods sold in schools to meet strict nutritional standards beginning in the 2014-15 school year. These regulations apply specifically to “competitive foods,” which are any foods sold to students in schools other than the federally reimbursed school lunch and breakfast. Though intended by Congress to target snack foods sold in vending machines, a la carte lines and school stores, these regulations will impact many students in CTE programs that operate school-based enterprises (SBE), including student-run cafés, bakeries and catering businesses.
ACTE has been working with Congress to provide regulatory relief for affected CTE programs, including through the introduction of Jumpstarting Occupational-learning and Entrepreneurialism (JOE) Act, H.R. 4713, sponsored by Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR). Currently, the only exemption provided to schools in the HHFKA relates to competitive food sales for in-school fundraising activities. The law says, “special exemptions for school-sponsored fundraisers (other than fundraising through vending machines, school stores, snack bars, a la carte sales, and any other exclusions determined by the Secretary), if the fundraisers are approved by the school and are infrequent within the school.” To meet the “infrequent” standard set by the HHFKA, the USDA mandates that there must be a limit on the number of exempt fundraisers that may be held during the school year. However, each state has the authority to establish its own rules to govern the number of exempt fundraisers allowed.
Some state departments of education have announced their policies on food sales at fundraisers for the upcoming school year. Georgia, which has proposed some of the most generous exemption policies to date, will allow schools to hold 30 fundraisers per school year, with each exempted fundraiser operating for no more than three days (a total of 90 days per school year). Approximately 12 states, including Tennessee, Illinois, Idaho and Indiana, have unveiled their fundraiser exemption rules. The National Association of State Boards of Education has created an online database to track these rules. It is important to note that if the state does not specify the exemption frequency, then no fundraiser exemption will be granted by the USDA. Some states are still in the process of developing their policies, so contact your state department of education for more information.