2014 Midterm Election: What It Means for PTA & Education

Co-authored by Jessica Seitz

MidTermElectionsWith the 2014 Midterm Elections now behind us, the impact of the results and how they will affect PTA-related policy issues must be examined. With most of the election results now in (some still pending), Republicans will now control both Houses of Congress.

By adding up to 40 new Members to the House of Representatives (gaining at least 13), Republicans will have at least 246 seats, its largest majority sense World War II. In the Senate, Republicans added 10 new members (picking up 7) and will take over the majority with at least 52 members. With new leadership set to take over in January, changes are on the horizon. Specifically, in the Senate, many Republicans who served as Committee ranking members are poised to become Chairs of their respective committees. In the House, while Republicans have retained leadership, key committee assignments are likely to change. New members will arrive in Washington next week for their orientation and leadership elections for both the House and the Senate, including chairmanships.

Other key results from Tuesday night impacting the national political landscape include:

Education funding

Several ballot initiatives were on the ballots across the country with mixed results. While New York and Illinois approved increased education spending, Nevada voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have imposed a 2% margin tax on businesses with more than $1 million in revenue to raise money for public schools.  Washington State narrowly passed a measure that would raise spending to cut down class sizes and hire staff but in Colorado, an amendment that would have used gambling to generate funding for schools lost by a large margin. Early education continues to be on the rise across the country, as voters approved measures in Denver and Seattle to raise taxes to expand access to high-quality preschool.

Teacher Tenure

The most controversial measure on the ballot this year was in Missouri. On Tuesday voters resoundingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have required districts to use student test scores as a key factor in teacher hiring, compensation, advancement, and layoffs. It would also have limited teacher contracts to three years and prohibit teachers from using the collective bargaining process to make changes to the design and implementation of the evaluation system.

House and Senate Leadership and Committee Outlook for 114th Congress

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will lead the 114th Congress. From a PTA advocacy perspective, two Committees stand out: The Education and Workforce Committee in the House of Representatives and the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee in the Senate. These committees deal exclusively with many K-12 issues PTA advocates for, including Family Engagement.

In the House, the Committee on Education and Workforce lost two Republicans and five Democrats, to either election or retirement. Among the most central figures not returning to the Committee is Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA). Current Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) is expected to maintain his position with Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) slated to become the committee’s Ranking Member.

In the Senate, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions loses two Democrats, Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Kay Hagan (D-NC). With leadership in the Senate changing hands, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will become the next Chairman of the HELP Committee and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), currently the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, is expected to become the Ranking Member. In a statement shortly after the election, Sen. Alexander stated:

“Yesterday Americans elected a new Senate majority determined to fix our broken system and move our country in a new direction…. Republicans in the Senate are ready to hit the ground running with proposals to….return control over our public schools to communities and classroom teachers…”

With control of both Chambers and strong statements like these, all indications point to important changes (or attempts to change) in 2015 in the area of education policy.


Matthew L. Evans is the Advocacy Coordinator at National PTA.
Jessica Seitz is the Policy Analyst at National PTA.

Common Core not the “Horror” you keep hearing about!

Common_Core_ImageAnyone that has a Facebook page has seen the various “Common Core Math” horror stories that try to make us believe that parents with highly technical degrees cannot do this “new math” that is being taught to our students. We turn on the television and hear some outrageous claim that “Common Core” is forcing kids to do too much. We see  stories that state how this “new fuzzy math” should be abandoned and that we should just get back to the basics; how the math we were taught twenty or thirty years ago worked..  The reality is Common Core is getting us “back to the basics” by laying out high expectations for students in order for them to have a solid, deep understanding of the skills needed for math and English language arts. Common Core expects that students actually know how and why math works instead of just memorizing facts.

As the new standards are taking hold and our students are being tested using the new standards, we have to understand the difference between the standards and the curriculum.  First, let’s just get it out of the way: there is no such thing as “Common Core Math” or “old” and “new” math. The Common Core State Standards are just that, standards.  They set the overall goals to ensure that our students are learning the skills needed for the careers of today and tomorrow. Beginning in Kindergarten each grade level builds upon the next so our kids will have a strong foundation in math and English language arts. The goal is to ensure that all kids finish high school truly prepared for the next step in their life whether that is college, technical school, military service or any other career choice. The standards set the foundation. The curriculum is how teachers choose to teach in his or her classroom.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths and misleading information about the Common Core State Standards. This initiative has been led by states, with coordination from the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Teachers were involved in the process of developing the standards. The federal government has not been involved in initiating or developing the standards.  Additionally, states are not required by the federal government to adopt these standards.  In order to receive grant funding or waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act’s failed goals, states were required to adopt college and career-ready standards, of which the Common Core State Standards were only one possibility.

As parents, if you do not understand how your child is being taught, do not rush to social media, but instead, pick up the phone, send an email, or go visit your child’s teacher and classroom. The only way that we can become informed is having meaningful partnerships between the home and the school. I have met hundreds of teachers and administrators throughout West Virginia and I have never met one that does not want to share their techniques and goals with parents. Simply, when there are meaningful partnerships between the home and school, our students and schools do better!

It is important to stress that the curriculum decisions are decided at the local level; decisions about what textbooks to use, which classroom lessons are appropriate and what teaching techniques work best are decided by our teachers, principals and school administrators, and ideally parents The Common Core standards set the goals that we need to meet. But more importantly, the curriculum is how the goals will be met. These two terms, standards and curriculum, are very different and are not interchangeable. Our teachers and local school boards are deciding how to teach our children fractions, what textbooks to use, and how to meet the needs of our children. In math, Teachers are presenting various strategies to students on how to solve problems and they are letting students discover there is not just one way to get to the correct answer and that is acceptable. Our teachers are using various strategies so that the student can choose the way they best understand, which is personalized for them. We do not want our students to just memorize math facts. We do want them to understand how and why math works so they are able to transfer those skills to real world situations like giving change without the aid of a cash register or how to decide which algorithm works best for a technical situation at work.

Your State Department of Education, National PTA and your state PTA provide great resources to educate parents on the new standards that are now implemented. It is up to you as a parent to take a few moments to research what the goals of the standards are and to see how they are being implemented in your child’s classroom. Visit our websites and ensure that you are receiving the most up-to-date and correct information.

The bottom line is that parents and families are the best advocates for their children.  Opening the dialogue between parents and the school is vital to ensure that our children are learning and that their needs are being met.  We cannot believe everything that is posted and shared on the Internet, but we can be confident that our children are being taught by individuals  who have dedicated their lives to our children. At the end of the day, the power is in our hands.


Justin Raber serves as the president of West Virginia PTA. 

About West Virginia PTA

West Virginia PTA comprises thousands of members, including families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders devoted to the educational success of children and the promotion of parent involvement in schools.  West Virginia PTA is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit association that prides itself on being a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education. Membership in PTA is open to anyone who wants to be involved and make a difference for the education, health, and welfare of children and youth.

 

Now Accepting 2015 Advocacy Awards Nominations

advocacyawardsNominations for the 2015 Advocacy Awards are now being accepted! If you know of an outstanding youth or individual PTA advocate, or know of a local unit or state level PTA that has done great advocacy work, please nominate them to receive an award for their efforts from National PTA. Winners will be announced in January, and will receive their awards at the 2015 Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.

Like in previous years, advocates may apply themselves in the youth and individual categories, and the winners in these categories will get the opportunity to act as advocacy ambassadors for PTA.

Nominations must be for efforts made in the last year and are due by 12 a.m. EDT on Dec. 19. Please visit the following links below to view and fill out nomination forms. You can also find these forms and more information about the 2015 Advocacy Awards at PTA.org/AdvocacyAwards.

Categories:

Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year Ambassador Award
The 2015 Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year Ambassador Award will be presented to an individual PTA member, who through their leadership and advocacy efforts, affected federal policy priorities within PTA’s annual Public Policy Agenda. Shirley was a model of public service and volunteerism throughout her life. She was an impassioned and compassionate leader, dedicated to moving PTA forward and committed to ensuring that others would follow.

Outstanding Youth Advocacy Ambassador Award
The 2015 Outstanding Youth Advocacy Ambassador Award will be presented to a young person—who—through his or her creativity, leadership, and dedication, has positively affected policy or change in his or her school or community in a way that aligns with PTA’s mission and goals.

Local/District/Regional PTA Outstanding Advocacy Award
The 2015 Local Outstanding Advocacy Award will be presented to a local, district, council or regional PTA that, through their dedication, leadership and efforts positively affected legislative and/or regulatory policy compatible with PTA’s mission and goals. These efforts must include an education/learning component for PTA members and the community-at-large. Working with multiple organizations or coalitions through grassroots collaboration is preferred.

State PTA Outstanding Advocacy Award
The 2015 State Outstanding Advocacy Award will be presented to a state PTA that, through their dedication, leadership and efforts positively affected legislative and/or regulatory policy compatible with PTA’s mission and goals. These efforts must be based on a statewide issue, involve working with multiple organizations or coalitions through grassroots collaboration, and contain a public awareness/advocacy training component for PTA members and the community at large.


Matthew L. Evans is an advocacy coordinator for National PTA.

Increased Access to Healthy Foods for SNAP Participants Through New USDA Funding

shutterstock_220126873On Sept. 29 in Richmond, Va., the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that $31.5 million will be available to assist those who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to easily access and afford fruits and vegetables. The funding will come from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, which was established in the 2014 Farm Bill. SNAP recipients encounter many barriers when accessing healthy foods, such as finding fresh fruits and vegetables. However, this program will involve stakeholders to work together to improve healthy eating among SNAP participants and remove the barriers that they face.

Grant recipients will work closely with others at the community level to initiate pilot projects as well as large-scale and multi-year projects. These pilot projects will work closely with the SNAP agency within the specific state and may include incentives for SNAP participants by working with SNAP retailers, improving marketing for healthier food options and supporting for local and regional agricultural producers. In addition, these incentives will make their products more accessible to SNAP participants, which specifically targets underserved communities.

A goal of SNAP is to replicate the successful initiatives that this funding supports. This may be technological advances of the benefit system or the increase in purchases of local and regional agricultural products by SNAP participants. Ultimately, the outcome for the projects that receive the funding will be an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption among SNAP participants that is sustained well beyond after the project has ended.

Learn more about the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program and read the press release announcing the funding.


Stephanie Simms is the School Nutrition Policy Fellow for the National PTA.

Formulation of Comunitario PTAs

ARISE PTA Meeting 2011 - IIIThe Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) is an independent, non-profit organization that is dedicated to assuring educational opportunity for every child. Our IDRA Family Leadership in Education Model began to take shape in the early 1980s. From the beginning, the approach honored the participants’ language and culture and focused on parent engagement in non-traditional ways. We worked with English learner parents who wanted their children to receive an excellent bilingual education and we have a long and rich history working with families of Title I schools across the country.

The concept of the Comunitario PTA evolved over time, particularly through IDRA’s strong relationship with ARISE (A Resource In Serving Equality) in the South Texas Rio Grande Valley because of their interest in developing family leadership in education, specifically among families that are poor, recent immigrants and whose home language is Spanish. The ARISE animadoras/promotoras (outreach workers) conduct weekly home visits with direct communication and a meaningful relationship with each family.

ARISE became the first Comunitario PTA in the nation. Several others have formed in South Texas. They are unique in that rather than being based in a school, they are based in grass-roots community organizations and they establish connections with the schools their children attend.

Here are some key ideas for replicating the South Texas Comunitario Approach:

  1. Identify a community organization, civic group or church that is willing to sponsor and organize a group of families in a specific community who want to have excellent public neighborhood schools for their children.
  2. A grass-roots organization that has real, ongoing and personal contact with families is ideal.
  3. Have a core group who are in touch with their neighbors and other families in the area that are interested in belonging to such an organization.
  4. Build community through personal home visits and one-on-one communication in the language of the community.
  5. Do not suggest electing officers or becoming a formal PTA until the group has been solidified and see themselves as a group.
  6. Bring together twenty adults who commit themselves to the organization and to the goal of excellent schools for all children.
  7. Facilitate a conversation to have the initial group to identify their vision and goals they have in common.
  8. Present the broad vision and goals of PTA and identify where there is congruence or overlap.
  9. When the group is ready, present the bare-bones community PTA requirements and start the formalizing: adopting bylaws, electing officers, etc.
  10. Contact the area, regional or state person that can facilitate the formalization of the group.
  11. Search for data sources on schools, preferably from a state education site

Caveats for this approach:

  1. Don’t start by trying to sell PTA to the initial group. Many of those we are approaching aren’t interested in the traditional mode of a campus-based organization and in the traditional functions of a PTA. You may mention that the ultimate goal is to form a community PTA but the group must emerge with its own vision, mission and goals around the focus of having all children having excellent neighborhood public schools.
  2. Don’t go for large numbers or speed of organization. Some excellent community PTAs have been formed that are regional or statewide and those have their own place and function. Our approach is not to seek quick membership from a broad group of individuals but rather to focus on a very specific neighborhood or section of a community and build personal connections.
  3. Mass media or online communications cannot replace ongoing authentic outreach and personal contact. The Comunitario PTA approach is given life and continuity through labor-intensive outreach but it rewards the community with continuity and emerging leadership from previously unengaged parents and families.

For more information, check out the following links:
IDRA Family Leadership in Education Model
PTA Comunitario Website
EBook: The PTA Comunitario Approach
Podcast: How to Start A PTA Comunitario

Show Your Support for Future Ready Districts

Copyright 2012 Lifetouch National School Studios IncThe Office of Educational Technology recently launched the Future Ready District Pledge, which establishes a framework for districts to achieve the goals laid out in President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative and commits districts to move as quickly as possible toward our shared vision of preparing students for success in college, careers and citizenship. Goals of the pledge include upgrading broadband and high-speed wireless connectivity, providing access to educational devices and digital content, and preparing teachers to use technology effectively to improve student learning.

Do you want Future Ready Schools? Here are a few ways you can help:

1. Please visit tech.ed.gov/FutureReadyPledge to read and sign the pledge!

2. Challenge superintendents and others in your network to sign the Future Ready District Pledge.

3. Share the Future Ready District Pledge via social media. You can use the message below or write your own.

Sample Tweet:

I signed the #FutureReady District Pledge and you should too! Visit tech.ed.gov/FutureReadyPledge to read & sign the pledge! @OfficeofEdTech


Matthew L. Evans is an advocacy coordinator for National PTA.

Why the #JJDPAMatters to PTA

JJDPAmattersThis week PTA celebrates the 40th anniversary of the enactment of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act (JJDPA). Leading up to this date, we’ve been writing about PTA’s history of advocacy and positions on the issue of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention. Today as we celebrate the anniversary, it’s important to understand the impact of this law on our children and why PTA continues to prioritize its improvement in our Federal Public Policy Agenda each year.

PTA members work in our schools and communities to make every child’s potential a reality by advocating for policies that further this mission. The JJDPA is one such policy. The funding programs and protections established in the law create a framework for a juvenile justice system that helps to ensure that youth who come into contact with the system have not lost their chance to become successful adults.

What impact does the JJDPA have on children?

The JJDPA helps to keep children in the juvenile justice system safe. The law establishes a federal-state partnership, providing states with funding to implement juvenile justice prevention and intervention programs. To receive this funding, states must comply with what are known as the JJDPA’s “core requirements,” minimum standards of safety and equitable treatment for youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.

Two such requirements—known as the “Jail Removal” and “Sight and Sound Separation” requirements—remove children from adult jails and lockups. Under the JJDPA, children are kept out of sight and sound of adult inmates. Before the JJDPA instituted these two requirements, children could be housed with adults, putting them at risk for psychological and physical abuse. Children held in adult facilities are more likely to commit suicide, be assaulted by staff or fellow inmates and be attacked with a weapon. Over the last forty years, the JJDPA’s protections have kept thousands of children every year away from these dangerous situations. Instead, these children are placed in juvenile facilities where they are provided with educational and rehabilitative services to strengthen their chances of success.

The JJDPA helps to keep children who commit minor offenses, such as skipping school, out of juvenile detention facilities. The JJDPA requires that youth who commit status offenses—conduct that would not be a crime if committed by an adult, such as skipping school, breaking curfew, or running away from home—are kept out of secure detention/correctional facilities.

Judge Joan Byer, a family court judge in Kentucky, writes in detail about why status offenses do not deserve detention in an earlier piece reposted in the Our Children blog. Status offenses are often the result of an unmet child or family need that can be best addressed through family, school, and community-based services. Detaining children who commit status offenses removes them from their families and leads to children failing to return to school after release and future delinquency. Detention also allows them to come into contact with more serious offenders, putting them in danger and exposing them to negative influences. The JJDPA’s Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO) core requirement helps thousands of children each year receive community-based services such as day treatment or residential home treatment, counseling, mentoring, family support and alternative education. These family and community-based alternatives are safer for children and less expensive to tax payers. Most importantly, the DSO protection works to create a system that does not damage a child’s chance to succeed but instead improves opportunities to reach his or her full potential.

The JJDPA helps to improve outcomes for youth of color by working to reduce racial disparities in the juvenile justice system. The Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) requirement of the JJDPA requires states to take measures to address the high overrepresentation of children from racial and ethnic minorities who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. The DMC core requirement seeks to guarantee a just system that provides equal treatment for every child in the United States.

To read more about how the DMC core requirement impacts youth of color, check out a piece reposted earlier this year on the One Voice blog by Anna Wong from the W. Haywood Burns Institute.

The Future of the JJDPA

The #JJDPAMatters to PTA.  As a result of the JJDPA, the children who have come into contact with the juvenile justice system over the last forty years have been better served. However, the current law does not go far enough and changes must be made in order for its protections to be fully realized:

  • The Jail Removal and Sight and Sound Separation protections do not extend to children tried or convicted in the adult criminal justice system, a practice allowed in every state;
  • The DSO core requirement was weakened by an amendment to the JJDPA allowing courts to detain status offenders in secure facilities for violating a court order; and
  • The DMC core requirement as currently outlined in the JJDPA is vaguely worded, providing states without clear guidance on how to implement the requirement.

The JJDPA is long overdue for reauthorization, presenting an opportunity to close these loopholes in the law’s protections. In this session of Congress, PTA and our partners are urging lawmakers to fully reauthorize the JJDPA, creating a juvenile justice system that works to help every child realize his or her full potential and become a productive member of society.

To stay informed on the latest happenings on the JJDPA and other happenings on Capitol Hill, join the PTA Takes Action Network at www.pta.org/takesaction/.

PTA and Juvenile Justice: Looking Forward

JuvenileJustice2In September, PTA will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the nation’s first comprehensive law designed to prevent children and youth from entering the juvenile justice system and to protect those currently in the system. Juvenile justice and delinquency prevention has historically been one of PTA’s key public policy priorities and the association continues to advocate for improvements to the juvenile justice system in the United States. Read more about PTA’s more than 100 years of juvenile justice advocacy.

Looking Forward

In 2014, there is still improvement needed to the juvenile justice system in the United States. Loopholes left in the JJDPA, as well as amendments made to the law over the years, have weakened its protections and additional protections are needed in federal law. National PTA’s current official position statement on juvenile justice urges members at all levels  to monitor, support, and advocate for laws and programs in the following areas:

Juvenile Justice

  • Promote initiatives to address racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic inequities in the juvenile justice system.
  • Encourage collaboration between law enforcement, the judicial system, and child welfare agencies.
  • Promote alternative dispute resolution techniques that provide a range of possible sanctions.
  • Prohibit youth who are charged with a serious crime from being tried in the adult court system unless there has been an opportunity for a judicial hearing and appeal.
  • Prohibit the incarceration of youth in adult facilities.
  • Assist youth leaving the juvenile justice system, and prevent their return.
  • Support research and data collection regarding youth offenses.

Today, as we have for over one hundred years, National PTA will continue to advocate for juvenile justice systems across the country that are safe and rehabilitative places for every child.

In September, look out for more information on the JJDPA in PTA’s One Voice Blog. Also check out:

PTA and Juvenile Justice: Over 100 Years of Advocacy

JuvenileJustice3In September, PTA will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the nation’s first comprehensive law designed to prevent children and youth from entering the juvenile justice system and to protect those currently in the system. Juvenile justice and delinquency prevention has historically been one of PTA’s key public policy priorities and the association continues to advocate for improvements to the juvenile justice system in the United States.

A Separate Justice System for Children

In 1899, the first juvenile court in the nation was founded in Cook County, IL. That same year, PTA convention delegates passed the association’s first resolution addressing the way children are handled in the judicial system. The resolution called for nationwide juvenile court and probation systems in order to protect children from being incarcerated with adults. At that time, juveniles committing even minor offenses such as truancy would be held with adults, putting them in potential danger and in contact with more serious offenders.  The mission of a juvenile justice system centers around the recognition that children have the ability to change, and the systems therefore focus resources on rehabilitation over punishment to help youth entering the system leave as productive adults.

After the 1899 convention, PTA members established their first Committee on Juvenile Courts and Probation (renamed the Committee on Juvenile Protection) and advocated at all levels of the association for safe and fair treatment of children involved in the judicial system. By the early 1925, as a result of the efforts of PTA members and other child advocates, all but two states had a separate juvenile court system.

PTA’s Juvenile Justice Advocacy Continues

Several decades later, in 1957, National PTA published What PTA Members Should Know About Juvenile Delinquency: Guide for Action, a booklet offering concrete courses of action for PTAs and communities to undertake to improve the juvenile justice system. In 1961, PTA supported the Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Offenses Control Act, signed by President Kennedy. The Act was the first piece of federal juvenile justice legislation and authorized pilot grants for anti-delinquency initiatives, training programs, and studies on juvenile delinquency.

The scope of the Act was limited and states still struggled to create a safe and supportive system for children. Research in the late 1960s revealed inconsistencies among juvenile justice systems nationwide. Children continued to be incarcerated for “status offenses”—noncriminal behaviors such as truancy, curfew violation, and running away from home—with some children still detained with adults. The National Council of Juvenile Court Judges (NCJCJ) approached National PTA in the 1960s, informing the association that “juvenile court judges were not qualified by training or experience to function effectively in the complicated area of guaranteeing justice to juveniles.” In response, PTA co-sponsored four regional conferences with NCJCJ to acquaint PTA leaders with juvenile courts and their procedures and to develop an advocacy strategy to help solve the problems of children in trouble. Then in 1973 PTA and NCJCJ co-published Juvenile Justice: A Handbook for Volunteers in Juvenile Court and the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) and NCJCJ funded 25-state volunteers-in-court programs through the conduit of state PTA units.

In the absence of a comprehensive federal statute, the role of the federal government was limited and could have little impact on the way states dealt delinquent youth and youth at risk of delinquency. There was a nationwide call from advocacy organizations including PTA for expanded resources and consistent protections for children. In response, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) with wide bipartisan support in 1974 to improve outcomes for youth and community safety.

The impact of the JJDPA over the last forty years has been remarkable: thousands of children have been kept out of facilities for committing minor offenses and kept separate from adults in detention. The JJDPA changed the way states approached juvenile justice by establishing a federal-state partnership and providing them with resources to improve their systems. The JJDPA also contains requirements to protect every child in the juvenile justice system that states must follow in order to receive these resources. As a result, communities and families in the United States, as well as youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system, are better served.

Setting the Record Straight: Healthy School Meal Rules Allow for Bake Sales

USDA_photoKevin Concannon currently serves as Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services in the United States Department of Agriculture. Working in partnership with state and local organizations, Food and Nutrition Service oversees child nutrition programs including National School Lunch, School Breakfast, and Summer Food Service Programs.  More information can be found at http://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/smart-snacks-school.

Several recent media reports have misrepresented how the bi-partisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’s Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards will impact school fundraisers like bake sales.

I’d like to set the record straight: the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not imposing federal restrictions on bake sales or fundraisers.

USDA has given states complete authority to set policies on fundraisers and bake sales that work for them. States are free to allow fundraisers and bake sales featuring foods and beverages that don’t meet the new standards during the school day if they choose. They, not USDA, are responsible for determining the number and the frequency of these events each year.

Even before the Act was passed in 2010, USDA made clear in a letter to Congress that it had no plans to limit bake sales and other fundraisers.

According to USDA research, prior to Smart Snacks, more than half of all schools did not hold fundraisers that sold sweet or salty foods. It is not surprising that many schools and states have now opted to continue those policies. That is their choice and a local decision.

Additionally, even in states that choose to require that fundraiser foods meet nutrition standards, there are reasonable limitations on when the state’s policy will apply. For instance, the standards only apply during the school day. Food sold at after-school sporting events, weekend school plays and other events is unaffected. It does not prevent band or athletic boosters or other fundraising organizations from hosting fundraisers after school or on the weekends. It also does not prohibit sales of foods meant to be consumed at home, like frozen pizzas and cookie dough, during the school day. Schools can also choose to hold as many fundraisers as they want during the school day that feature foods that meet the Smart Snacks standards. In addition, Smart Snacks does not have any bearing on the many non-food fundraisers that take place in schools.

All of these provisions apply in all states. And again, states can choose to allow fundraisers and bake sales with foods that don’t meet nutrition standards during the school day if they choose.

The Congressional intent is clear that the purpose of Smart Snacks is to improve the nutritional quality of certain foods and beverages sold in school, like those in vending machines. This work is particularly important, as we face a growing obesity crisis in this country. Two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese. One in five young adults is too overweight to serve in the military. At a treatment cost of $190.2 billion per year, obesity is not just a health issue. It is an economic and a national security issue that leaves this generation of children at risk of dying at a younger age than their parents for the first time in American history.

Recognizing that, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act on a bipartisan basis in 2010. The law directed USDA to set reasonable nutrition standards, based on recommendations from pediatricians and other experts, for foods sold to children at school. The law specifically directed USDA to consider special exemptions for school-sponsored fundraisers involving food.

We agree with and respect the intent of Congress to continue those time-honored traditions, which is why we chose not to regulate fundraisers or bake sales at the federal level and instead allowed states to determine their own policies. It is also important to note that Smart Snacks only applies to the sale of foods—foods brought to school in bagged lunches and treats for time-honored events like birthday parties, holidays and special events are not impacted by the standards.

Our children’s ability to learn in the classroom and reach their fullest potential depends on what we do right now to secure their future. Healthier meals and snacks at school—with flexibility, common sense, and occasional treats—are how we get there.