Urge Congress to Empower Schools to Serve Healthy Meals
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), the latest version of the Child Nutrition Act, was signed into law by President Obama in 2010. It authorizes six nutrition programs, including school breakfast and lunch. While the law addresses many issues around hunger, obesity and students’ health, it also creates numerous new requirements and complications for school districts in implementing federal nutrition programs and does not provide sufficient federal funding to address these new responsibilities.
Among these requirements that districts must meet are new national standards for school meals - often at a higher cost, new standards for food sold outside the subsidized school meal program, and new requirements around indirect costs and paid meal pricing. Implementation difficulties and the costs associated with them have negatively impacted school district budgets and operations.
Why You Need to Act Now
Congress is picking up speed in reauthorization with the Senate Agriculture Committee passing the bipartisan Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016 (ICNIA) to update the law on January 20, 2016. NSBA sent a letter to the Committee to express its qualified support for the bill. Spearheaded by Committee Chair Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the legislation includes provisions to improve nutrition standards and ease some regulatory mandates, particularly with regard to the sodium and whole grain requirements under the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. In April, the House followed suit with introduction of the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (ICNEA), which makes substantive progress toward incorporating local school district perspective into administration of the child nutrition program. See NSBA’s letter of support. The House Education & the Workforce Committee approved the bill, HR 5003, on May 18 with a vote of 20 - 14.
With legislation in both chambers, let’s urge Congress to keep up the momentum and modernize the Child Nutrition Act to empower local schools districts to serve healthy meals.
Advocacy Resources and Tips
- The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act imposes unfunded mandates on school districts around implementation of the school lunch programs. The requirements and cost associated with these mandates have negatively impacted school district budgets and operations.
- Through a survey of school board members, 84 percent of school districts saw increased plate waste, 82 percent had increased costs, and 77 percent saw decreased participation in meal programs by their students since the law took effect in 2010.
- Congress should work to pass a reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act that gives school districts relief from current implementation challenges, by respecting local school governance and providing additional flexibility for local school districts.
- A Child Nutrition Act reauthorization should be cost-neutral to school districts by increasing reimbursement levels and other federal funds to cover the full cost of compliance, or enacting a statute that makes implementation feasible with currently available federal resources.
- Congress should provide local school boards with opportunities for meaningful input into emerging law and administrative policy.
While this takes the most amount of work to prepare and accomplish, a face-to-face meeting allows you to make a personal appeal directly to the Member and their staff. You don’t have to travel to Washington, D.C., Members have state or district offices where they routinely meet with constituents.
- Call or email the Member’s office to request a meeting with the Member or the staff person that handles the issue. Be clear and concise in your request so the office can identify the right staff person if the Member is not available.
- Read over NSBAC talking points and the above background material on the issue – you don’t need to be an expert. Just have a good understanding of the issue and what NSBAC is seeking from Congress.
- Know what Congress or the Member is doing on the issue. Is Congress presently considering legislation to address the issue? Is Member’s office you are calling on the Congressional Committee that addresses the issue? Offices which are on the Committee that takes charge of an issue are more likely to be familiar with and in a better position to take action on an issue. Check out NSBAC's resources on Congress and key committees.
- Think of a personal example to make your point – how the issue impacts your school district, state or school. Be prepared to present this personalized view on the issue in a way that Congressional office will see a connection to the cities and towns which they represent (i.e. in Jefferson Elementary school…)
- Be clear and direct in stating your purpose at the meeting. Provide a few key points to back up your argument. Include the personal connection to the issue. Lastly, ask the Member to support the NSBAC position.
Phone calls are an effective and fast way to communicate with your members of Congress, especially when a critical vote is expected to occur. Sometimes you may be able to talk directly with your member of Congress or their key education staffers and have a more substantive conversation. Even if you don’t, your calls may be tallied by the receptionist who will inform the member of Congress of given counts of constituents for and against a particular issue.
- Read over the NSBAC talking points and the above background materials on the issue – you don’t need to be an expert. Just have a good understanding of the issue and what NSBAC is seeking from Congress.
- Know what Congress or the Member is doing on the issue. Is Congress presently considering legislation to address the issue? Does the Member you are calling sit on the Congressional Committee that addresses the issue? Offices that are on the Committee that takes charge of an issue are more likely to be familiar with and in a better position to take action on an issue. Check out NSBAC's resources on Congress and key committees.
- Think of a personal example to make your point — how the issue impacts the students in your school district or state.
- Be concise and direct on the phone. Stick to the main points of the issue and make sure to briefly personalize it so there is a direct connect to the Member’s Congressional district/state.
- Don’t just express your views. Ask what the Member’s views are and ask them to support your position. Finish the conversation by asking the Member’s office to keep you updated on how the Member votes on the issue.
One of the most effective ways to raise the awareness of an issue and get others to join you in acting is to educate the local media. Ensuring that the media understands the impact of an issue and the NSBAC position will lead to better stories that help advance your work.
- Meet with those who decide what gets published or broadcasted. Your local paper likely has an editorial board or an editor who decides what gets published – both opinion pieces and news stories. Television stations also have a similar structure. Web-only media publications may not have a set structure, but you can likely find out via their website or by calling/emailing them.
- Ask to meet with this individual or individuals to educate them on your issue. Provide NSBAC materials to help make your point. Make sure to connect the issue to how it impacts the readers of the paper.
- Contact reporters or bloggers (in the case of a web-only publication) that cover issues that you are concerned about.
- Educate them directly on the issue and provide them with materials to help them write a story (background, summary, how it impacts the local community or the focus they cover).
- Work to maintain this relationship overtime and establish yourself as a resource for them.