Michelle Obama’s signature 2010 child nutrition legislation is running into a stumbling block in a school district in upstate New York: reality.
Niskayuna Central School District in the Schenectady area has decided unanimously to withdraw from the program as of April, reports WNYT, Albany’s CBS affiliate.
Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, participating schools must provide lunches — including free or reduced price lunches — with minimum amounts of fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and whole grains. Also, in what presumably falls outside the hunger-free aspect of the act, there’s a calorie cap: 850 for high school lunches, 700 for middle schools and a mere 650 calories for kids in elementary school.
In order to meet the requirements, schools must cut the sizes of main dishes.
In the Niskayuna cafeterias, the program isn’t working out. In short, kids aren’t eating the grub. At elementary schools, for example, students are buying lunch about half as often as they did last year.
“The kids just don’t like what’s being served this year,” Suzanne Wixom, director of the school district’s food services, told WNYT.
“We have kids who are hungry and that’s what we’re here for,” she added. “They can’t learn if they’re hungry.”
Wixom added that students have frequently just tossed food they don’t want to eat into the garbage.
“You are going to be heroes among a lot of kids,” said school board member John Buhrmaster after the decision, according to Spotlightnews.com. “The program you had before was better than the one dictated by the federal government and the kids understood that, and they will be very appreciative.”
In exchange for meeting the federal requirements, participating school districts receive substantial funding from the United States Department of Agriculture.
For the Niskayuna Board of Education, the decision to opt out of the program will mean forgoing roughly $150,000 in federal funding.
However, according to Spotlightnews.com, participation in the federal program has pinched the school district’s bottom line. Since the start of this school year (through December), the lunch program has operated at a net loss of over $70,000.
School officials say they hope to make up for the loss in federal lucre by offering more appetizing — but still nutritious — lunches.
“We hope to see increased participation in the school lunch program,” Superintendent kay Salvaggio wrote in a letter to parents, according to the Albany Times Union. “Despite the loss of federal meal reimbursements, we have calculated that the surest way to ensure a cost-effective program is to have sufficient numbers of students buying lunch.”
As the Times Union notes, only about eight percent of the students in Niskayuna qualify for free or reduced lunch, which suggests that the school district will be able to absorb the loss of federal reimbursement better than a school district such as the nearby Schenectady City School District. In Schenectady, where almost two thirds of all students qualify for free and reduced lunches, the school district is more likely to take the federal aid and the strings that come with it.