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The truth behind SB1061 — the school lunch opt-out bill

If ever I needed to channel Paul Harvey, now is the time. Since SB1070, I don’t think I have ever witnessed more false statements, misunderstandings and outright lies than I have with the school lunch opt-out bill. So with great respect for a radio legend, here is the rest of the story.

Approximately six years ago, a large nutrition bill worked its way through the Legislature. For some reason, at that time someone decided to make school lunch participation mandatory for K-8 district grades, instead of voluntary like it had been for the past 50 years. I say “for some reason” because all K-8 district grades with more than 100 kids were already participating in the program. High schools and charter schools were exempt from the new mandate.

Fast forward to today. The USDA updates its school lunch rules approximately every 12-15 years. This year (2012) happens to be the year that the rules are undergoing a complete overhaul. The new rules cover everything from what has to be served, what portion sizes are allowed, how much schools have to charge kids, how often schools are audited, etc.

Mesa’s school foodservice Director Loretta Zullo said in the Jan. 19 East Valley Tribune that she is “anxiously” awaiting the final approved changes to the program, which would increase the required number of fruits, vegetables and whole grain products served, as well as change how districts can calculate how much they charge. Under the first proposals put out, Zullo said they could have resulted in a lot of increased cost for the district, but she anticipated Mesa could weather it. “It’s a complicated formula,” she said of the proposed way districts must charge for meals. “Districts may have to supplement (meal prices) from the general fund. Districts are not going to want to do that. They do not have the money to do that.”

In anticipation of all the new rules being rolled out in 2012, I felt it would be a good idea to go back to the law Arizona districts used to follow six years ago. Besides, 41 other states let districts choose whether to participate in the national school lunch program. Only nine states mandate it, including Arizona. Contrary to what has been reported, I am not anti-fresh fruit, anti-nutritious meals, or anti-low income children. I simply want schools to have flexibility to tackle their challenges in the best way they see fit. This is why the Arizona School Boards Association supports the bill. I firmly believe not a single child will go hungry as a result of this bill. Why else would 41 other states not feel compelled to force their districts to participate in the federal school lunch program? And why were all schools participating before the law was changed six years ago? This mandate is unnecessary.

SB1061 is a simple, one word change — “shall” to “may.” Nothing more, nothing less.

Supporters of SB1061 and opponents to the bill basically disagree on one major point — can local communities and constituents be trusted to take care of the children in their charge? I firmly fall on the side of local control, freedom and self-governance. The loudest opponents of SB1061 claim that only through mandates can people be trusted to do what is in the best interest of children. I sure hope this is not the direction we are headed as a country.

With regards to a conflict of interest, I do own a company that works in the school nutrition area. State governments hire my company to audit menus and conduct on-site audits. I do not do any reviews or audits in Arizona. I stand to gain absolutely nothing from this bill passing. And no, contrary to what a few blogs have reported, I do not provide food to Arizona schools. As chair of the Senate Education Committee I am simply trying to eliminate a mandate in state statute that takes away a local community’s right to choose what is best for its children.

In conclusion, nothing is worse than a slow erosion of liberty because we never see it coming.

And as Paul Harvey would say, “now you know the rest of the story!”

— Republican Sen. Rich Crandall represents Mesa’s District 19 and is chair of the Senate Education Committee.

One comment

  1. Senator Rich Crandall wants to take things back to the past, but the needs of our schools and students have changed dramatically. This National School Lunch Program is not costing our schools or state our local taxpayer dollars, but it is supported by our federal dollars. We are dealing with obesity in children and schools do not provide exercise to deal with this health issue. So changing menus and regulations to fit the healthy needs of our children is good! With high unemployment that hits all segments of society, a recession and limited school resources, children/parents who are in need have the right to ask their schools to help where they can. Many parents are working two jobs to stay afloat and are at the brink of losing their homes. How can you possibly want to go back to six years ago, when we need legislators that lead change for the future and address the needs of healthy students today!

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