Today, the House Committee on Education and Labor approved House Bill 5504, with amendments. The proposed bill authorizes the renewal of the Child Nutrition Act, the legislation that drives the National School Lunch program.  Major changes include a slight increase in reimbursement for meals (the first in nearly three decades), improved safety standards, reduced barriers to qualify for free/reduced meals and much higher standards for nutritional content for all food served on public K-12 school campuses.

Locally, work continues to improve the quality and appeal of school meals under the leadership of Food Services Manager Jamie Smith. At the SCCS Board of Trustees meeting on July 28, [ Editor’s Note: This report has been moved to August 11. ] Smith is expected to report on plans to increase participation in both paid and free meals served at breakfast and lunch.  In a report presented last month, participation numbers for the 2009/10 school year showed a large drop over previous years.  Though the quality of food has improved, the transition to before-school breakfast and a lack of outreach publicizing changes to school meals and timing contributed to fewer students taking meals at school. Under Smith’s guidance, Food Services accelerated a transition to in-house scratch-cooked meals in March; from August-February, meals at the elementary and middle schools were provided by Revolution Foods, an Oakland-based company offering largely organic, kid-approved meals.

Members of the SCCS Wellness Committee and Santa Cruz Education Foundation recently attended a food policy discussion with USDA Under Secretary Janey Thornton, Rep. Sam Farr and Assemblymember Bill Monning.  Work to improve the quality of school meals and increase access for Santa Cruz County students has continued throughout the summer months through the collaborative alliance, Fixing School Food. A renewed focus on Universal Classroom Breakfast from the California Department of Education, the Federal School Lunch program and local advocates may drive a new effort in Santa Cruz schools to reactivate plans for in-classroom breakfasts – a program that was ready to pilot in two of our schools last fall.

The text of the full House announcement:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Education and Labor Committee today passed bipartisan legislation to support children’s health and reduce childhood hunger by dramatically  improving federal child nutrition programs. The Committee passed the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act, H.R. 5504 with a bipartisan vote of 32-13.

The bill includes sweeping reforms to significantly increase access and remove barriers to child nutrition programs, improve the quality of the meals served and implement new school food safety guidelines. The bill would increase the reimbursement rate for schools — the first increase in over 30 years. Additionally, for the first time, it would require schools to set standards for foods served outside the cafeteria, including vending machines.

“If we allow our children’s health to suffer, if we allow more children to go hungry by not taking swift action with this legislation, we fail our children, their families and the future of this country,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee and original co-sponsor of this legislation. “This legislation gives us a real opportunity to make dramatic reforms to help prevent hunger, to improve children’s health and increase access to healthy meals. The health and academic success of an entire generation of children is at stake.”

“Given the serious fiscal challenges facing our country, we must ensure that we devote our limited resources to our nation’s most urgent priorities,” said Congressman Todd Platts (R-PA), original co-sponsor of the legislation. “Providing nutritious meals and improving health standards for our nation’s children, especially those most in need, are such priorities. I am pleased to be working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to move this important legislation forward.”

“I am pleased that this legislation calls for common sense action, to protect the health of our children. This bill addresses the need to work with children of all ages, from infants to high school age, to help them form healthy habits” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), chair of the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities and original co-sponsor of the legislation. “From provisions to encourage mothers to breast feed to infants, to addressing the need to begin working with preschoolers on forming healthy habits and promoting physical activity and quality recess time, this legislation takes a comprehensive approach to improving the health of our children. Simply, this bill emphasizes healthy food and healthy habits, which will make healthy children.”

In addition to other amendments offered by committee Members, the committee voted on a managers amendment, offered by Miller, that would bolster the legislation and help achieve President Obama’s goal of enhancing and improving the federal child nutrition programs. The amendment would expand the national afterschool meals program so more children in afterschool programs can have an additional snack or meal. Among other provisions, it would improve nutrition education and make further enhancements to food safety and food quality.

The managers amendment also strengthens the science-based foundation that ensures the WIC program best meets the nutrition needs of participants by enhancing the Secretary of Agriculture’s existing authority to conduct scientific reviews and ensures that the review considers the modern food environment, including innovations in the marketplace that may enhance WIC foods to better meet nutritional needs.

More information about the bill and amendments offered during the hearing.