A study published in September by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that participation in First Lady Michelle Obama’s school lunch program has dropped by 1.4 million children, from 62 percent to 58 percent, from school year 2010-2011 through the 2013-2014 academic year.
According to the GAO, of the eight states it interviewed, seven reported that student dissatisfaction with the new federal nutrition requirements (low sugar, low salt, etc.), as updated in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, contributed to the drop in participation. Additionally, half of the states said the recent increase in the price of the lunches also was a factor.
In a letter sent last week to congressional leaders, the School Nutrition Association (SNA) and the School Superintendents Association (AASA) said the “overly prescriptive regulatory requirements” of Michelle Obama’s school lunch program have led to school districts being “forced to financially subsidize meals at the expense of educational programs.”
The organizations indicated that school meal regulations added 10 cents to the cost of every lunch and 27 cents to every breakfast, requiring local school districts to absorb $1.2 billion in additional costs in 2015 alone.
“To meet the rules, schools were provided only 6 additional cents for lunch, and while every breakfast must include an extra serving of fruit, schools were given no additional funds,” the groups say.
GAO observed that school fundraisers are failing as well since outside, “competitive” food is also subject to the rules of the First Lady’s meal program.
Interestingly, the study found an increase in participation in the breakfast program nationwide, an outcome that is at least partly due to the program’s expansion into more schools.
“We are all committed to ensuring students receive healthy school meals, but the financial impact of the new rules threatens school meal programs and efforts to better serve students,” said Jean Ronnei, SNS, SNA president, in a press statement. “Congress must take steps to restore the financial sustainability of these programs for the sake of the children we serve.”