Lawmakers seek to re-sweeten school fundraisers

Submitted by By Cheyna Roth
Capital News Service

LANSING — School bake sales have gotten an extreme health makeover this past school year, but state lawmakers are hoping to bring back the traditional sweet fare.

Michigan public schools that participate in federal meal programs have been required since July to follow the federal “Smart Snacks” program, which regulates the types of foods served and sold on school grounds.

The regulation, which targets growing childhood obesity rates, establishes nutrition standards and applies to any food sold on school grounds within 30 minutes of the end of the school day. Under USDA guidelines, foods must meet certain sodium, fat, calorie and sugar limits as well as other requirements such as having the first ingredient be a fruit, vegetable, dairy product or protein.

If schools do not comply with the regulations, they could potentially face a fine dictated by the USDA, which has not yet been set. However, the focus is not on fines, said Adrienne Davenport, a consultant for the Michigan Department of Education. Instead, the current focus of the program is “technical assistance” – education and training on how to follow the guidelines.

While the law allows each state to carve out its own exemptions for non-nutritional fundraisers, the Michigan Department of Education opted for zero exemptions to ensure fairness and avoid enforcement struggles, Davenport said.

“We reached out to administrators, business managers at schools, superintendents and principals,” Davenport said. “We were surprised with the feedback that more were OK with the concept of zero exemptions than we had thought, just because the whole policing aspect was quite stressful to many.”
But several state lawmakers aren’t OK with the policy.

The new regulation gets in the way of basic community fundraising, said Sen. Patrick Colbeck, a Republican from Canton Township.

Colbeck became aware of the issue after a Cub Scout from his district approached him. The Scout was upset that his troop could no longer sell baked goods during school to raise money. After speaking with a principal from his district, Colbeck agreed with the principal that at a minimum there should be exemptions to the fundraising restriction.

“There’s only so many times you can hold a rice cake bake sale and get people interested in it,” Colbeck said.

Colbeck said the federal Smart Snack program was an imposition on state and local government.
“We’re a school choice environment; parents can choose where to send their kids to school,” Colbeck said. “But for the federal government to try and dictate nationwide … violates that basic principle of local control.”

Colbeck was joined by Sen. Judy Emmons, a Republican from Sheridan, and others in drafting a bill introduced in February that would allow schools to hold fundraising activities with unregulated food sales.

The bill was referred to the Committee on Education and has yet to be assigned a hearing date.
Also on board with bringing back sweet treats is State Rep. Phil Potvin, a Cadillac Republican. Potvin introduced similar legislation and a resolution in the House. Although the House and Senate bills will remain separate, Colbeck said the lawmakers will combine efforts to get either piece of legislation passed.

Twenty-nine states chose not to have any exempt fundraisers, according to a report from the School Nutrition Association. The range of exemptions includes as many as 30 per school site per semester for a period of 14 days in Oklahoma, to each school group being permitted one two-day fundraiser per semester.

Support of the overall child nutrition goal does not necessarily mean support of the fundraiser restrictions. Lenore Weaver, principal at Big Rapids Middle School, said that although she believes the federal law is helpful, the lack of fundraising options cuts into school programs such as field trips.
“There’s only so many T-shirts you can sell,” Weaver said.

The after-school concession stand appears to be taking the biggest hit. Big Rapids Middle School’s PTO sells snacks immediately after school, and the money goes into a general fund to support field trips and programs such as the Bully Busters. Replacing Skittles with cheese sticks has resulted in reduced profit for the concession stand.

“I’m in favor of the idea of it, I really am,” Weaver said of the nutrition standards. “I like the idea of the lunch and what we provide for the students. I did not like and I don’t agree with the fundraiser. I don’t like anybody telling us what we can and can’t do on our own.”

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