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H.R. 6541 (115th): Local Control of School Lunch Act

What should your child be able to eat in their school lunch? If this bill passes, it will be saltier, fattier and lower in fiber.

Context

No more 1% chocolate milk. No more trans fats. Calorie maximums.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 updated nutrition requirements for the National School Lunch Program, a federal program helping provide millions of low-cost or free meals to low-income students, for the first time in 15 years. The initiative was most famously championed by First Lady Michelle Obama,

However, participation in the National School Lunch Program declined from 62% to 58% between 2010 and 2014, or about 1.4 million children.

Of the eight states that the Government Accountability Office interviewed for their study, seven said that the new federal nutrition requirements contributed to the decline, while four said that mandated increases in price contributed.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO4)

What the bill does

The Local Control of School Lunch Act [H.R. 6541] would get rid of several of these rules, including:

  • Calorie limits on meals.
  • Certain sodium requirements.
  • “The percentage of grains made with enriched or whole grain flour.”

The bill was introduced in late July by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO4).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the bill would give a level of autonomy over both ingredients and price that the Obama Administration took away.

“This legislation provides flexibility to school administrators and gives students more options at lunch time,” Rep. Hartzler said in a press release. “Common-sense changes need to be made to the National School Lunch Program to ensure all children have access to nutritious, affordable meals they will eat without putting unnecessary burdens on our local school districts resulting in food that is thrown away. Local schools require permanent relief and local control, not more federal mandates.”

“Washington should not dictate the price of our local school lunches nor prescribe what our kids eat. As a parent and a former school teacher, I know how important it is to empower our schools to do what’s best for their students,” Hartzler continued.. “I’m doing everything I can to make sure our students are successful, and one aspect of that is making sure they have access to a filling, nutritious lunches they can enjoy.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the Obama-era requirements were necessary to protect the nation’s health. Childhood obesity has tripled since the 1970s and now affects 18.5% of children and adolescents. (And that’s not even counting those who are “merely” overweight.)

“We’re seeing this problem in every part of the country in kids from all different backgrounds and all walks of life,” President Obama said when signing the original 2010 bill into law. “As a result, doctors are now starting to see conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type II diabetes in children — these are things that they only used to see in adults. And this bill is about reversing that trend and giving our kids the healthy futures that they deserve.”

“And this bill is also about doing what’s right for our country, because we feel the strains that treating obesity-related health conditions puts on our economy,” Obama continued. “We’ve seen the connection between what our kids eat and how well they perform in school. And we know that the countries that succeed in the 21st century will be the ones that have the best-prepared, best-educated workforce around.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted one Republican cosponsor, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR1). It awaits a potential vote in the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

To some extent this process has already begun, with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue beginning to allow more exemptions to the rules in May 2017, and then more still in November 2017. This bill would both speed up and expand the rollback.

“A perfect example is in the south, where the schools want to serve grits. But the whole grain variety has little black flakes in it, and the kids won’t eat it,” Purdue said in announcing his agency’s partial rollback. “The school is compliant with the whole grain requirements, but no one is eating the grits. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Last updated Aug 20, 2018. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jul 26, 2018.


Local Control of School Lunch Act

This bill prohibits the Department of Agriculture (USDA) from establishing or applying certain minimum nutrition requirements for the National School Lunch Program. The bill applies to requirements regarding:

target 1 sodium, calorie limitations, and the percentage of grains made with enriched or whole grain flour. With respect to grains and meats served in school breakfasts, USDA must apply meal requirements in regulations that were in effect on September 12, 2008.

This bill also amends the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to repeal requirements for school food authorities to use a specified formula (known as paid lunch equity requirements) to establish a price for paid lunches served to students who are not certified to receive free or reduced price meals.