A bill that would exempt schools from federal nutrition standards failed to gain the endorsement of the Senate Education Committee Tuesday.
SB 84 – State Control of School Nutrition Standards, sponsored by Senator Aaron Osmond (Republican – South Jordan), requires the State Board of Education to make rules concerning nutrition standards for food sold by a school food authority.
Osmond began a defense of his bill by noting that federal regulations are too burdensome to the state.
“I believe that it is the state’s right and responsibility to be responsible for public education and what happens within public education. Over the years, when it comes to public education and many other areas of our state government, the federal government has taken actions that slowly but surely taken it away our sovereignty and right to make decisions and replaced it with federal money with strings attached that significantly control and limit the way in which we can act in our public education system,” Osmond opined.
Osmond believes that such regulations have caused undue harm to food served in Utah’s schools. “Through regulatory authorization by Congress, the federal government has enabled the leaders of our Department of Health to come in and dictate to us the type of food that our children can eat.” He also said that these rules have prevented schools from holding “food-based” fundraisers.
Bruce Williams, associate superintendent for business services and operations at the Utah State Office of Education, is concerned that federal funding will dry up if the bill passes. “There’s a high probability that the federal government would suggest that we no longer got this reimbursement for these [reduced and free lunch] meals, which will have a significant impact.”
Melva Sine, president and CEO of the Utah Restaurant Association, explained that her group currently has a state-funded program in 62 high schools called ‘ProStart,’ which is for students who wish to go into the restaurant industry. They receive a certificate after completing the program. One way for students to earn enough hours to receive the certificate is working in their school’s restaurant. Due to federal regulations regarding food in schools, schools are having to close their eateries because they cannot sell anything that doesn’t meet nutrional standards. “This creates a problem for us, and we’re looking for a solution.”
Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) applauded the bill. “It’s painful, but in very real terms, you buy back your freedom and freedom comes with a price. Unfortunately, when you’re buying it back from the federal government that price is very high.”
Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) decried the idea of protesting federal regulations by putting federal funding for school lunches in jeopardy. “This senator can’t help but notice that whenever we’re trying to send a message to Washington and we shake our fist, it is with the poor people of this state’s money that we’re seeking to send the message.”
A motion to pass the bill out failed on a 3-3 tie vote.