The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 authorized the federal government to issue new nutritional standards for schools nationwide. In addition to creating enhanced requirements for reimbursable meals sold in school cafeterias, the law also established the first-ever national nutritional standard for “competitive foods” sold in schools, which went into effect in the 2014-15 school year. These regulations not only impact foods sold in vending machines, a la carte lines and school stores, but also CTE programs that operate school-based enterprises, such as student-run cafés, bakeries and catering businesses. As Congress looks toward reauthorization of the law this fall, the House Education and the Workforce Committee has begun a series of hearings to consider possible reforms.
A hearing held on June 16, primarily focused on federal rules and regulations related to nutrition assistance programs, with most of the conversation centered on the school lunch program. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified before the committee and responded to questions, many of which had been raised by local school districts. Committee members expressed concerns about the costs of compliance with the new rules, waste and fraud within the program, specific nutritional requirements related to the program, such as those for calories, sodium, milk and whole grains. Only two Members of Congress asked about the competitive food rules, and both raised the issue relative to revenue for schools and whether the new rules resulted in a reduction of resources.
The Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee held a separate hearing this week focused on the implementation of the HHFKA nutrition rules from the perspective of state education agencies and local school districts. The state and local school nutrition administrators who participated in the hearing touched on some reoccurring themes, including concerns about food waste, the added regulatory burdens for states and districts, and the need to preserve flexibility in administering school meal programs. You can read more about this issue and its impact on CTE at our CTE Policy Watch blog.