School Lunches

School lunches have become the latest hot topic in the federalism debate, and once again, federal funding is at the center of this controversy.

“The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010” requires public schools that accept federal funding for free and reduced lunch programs to abide by more restrictive food guidelines. These parameters require healthier school cafeteria options, including lighter menu items and reduced additives.

The law went into effect in 2012, and now many school boards are appealing to Washington to let them out.


Schools are reporting that a significant amount of cafeteria food is now going to waste, as kids are opting not to eat the healthier options on their plate. These schools then face hefty costs to dispose of the large quantities of wasted food. Some districts report they are using teaching budgets to make up for the financial shortfalls that occur from the disposal process.

As a result, this week, a U.S. House subcommittee approved a spending bill that would provide temporary waivers for school lunch programs that could prove that they were operating at a net loss for six months.

Some school districts are taking matters into their own hands. Recently, Arlington Heights District 214 in Illinois voted to opt out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) free and reduced lunch program. They decided the $900,000 federal grant they received was not worth the financial hit they would take from having to comply with the federal subsidy’s stipulations.

Dist. 214 Superintendent David Schuler warned the district would likely lose money if it complied with the federal requirements. They are still trying to figure out how they will make up the lost funding to continue the free and reduced-lunch meal program.

This is yet another example of a failed one-size-fits-all approach to public policy.

While healthy school lunches are a noble goal, mandating federal guidelines has only done a disservice to students, parents, and schools alike. If more districts like Arlington Heights opt out, then funding for the most vulnerable school children’s meal program will be at risk.

School lunch policies, like many other decisions, should instead be made at the most local level possible and empower local people to solve problems locally.

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