Monday, October 14, 2013

State education board to discuss new nutrition standards

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

The Kansas State Board of Education will hear a report Tuesday about proposed new federal nutrition guidelines governing food sold in school vending machines and other outlets that often compete with regular school lunches.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled the draft "Smart Snacks in Schools" guidelines in June as part of an effort to offer healthier food choices and limit the amount of high-calorie "junk food" sold in school buildings.

"Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will support their great efforts," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at the time.

USDA is accepting public comment on the draft rules through Oct. 28, and final rules are tentatively set to go into effect July 1, 2014. But Cheryl Johnson, director of the Kansas State Department of Education's Child Nutrition and Wellness program, said she hopes those deadlines will be extended because of the ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government.

As of Friday, the USDA's website was inactive due to the shutdown, and pages related to the draft guidelines were not accessible.

Johnson said she was asked to give a report to the state board about the draft guidelines in case the board itself wants to submit comments to USDA.

The new guidelines come one year after schools began implementing new nutritional standards on subsidized school lunches. Those standards ignited controversy in some areas because they imposed the first ever maximum caps on the number of calories those meals can contain.

They also called for less meat and more fresh fruit, whole grains and low-fat milk.

Some parents in Kansas and elsewhere complained that the new school lunches weren't providing enough calories, especially for student-athletes who are trying to build muscle.

But school officials said the guidelines only applied to federally subsidized meals, and that students were allowed to buy additional servings, although some additional helpings may not qualify for subsidies.

Federal officials say both sets of standards are aimed at combating child hunger and obesity, and improving the health and nutrition of students.

So far, state officials have said, the new guidelines on snack foods have not generated the same level of controversy.

The state board meets Tuesday and Wednesday in Room 112-North of the Kansas Statehouse. The State Department of Education is in the process of relocating from a building where it has been housed since 1966, into new office space in the Landon State Office Building near the Capitol.

At 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the board will host an informal meeting and discussion with several state legislators, primarily to talk about the Kansas College and Career Ready Standards, otherwise known as Common Core standards for English language arts and math.

In other business, the state board will:

• Hear a report from Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker on the status of implementing new "emergency safety interventions," which are methods of restraining and controlling students with violent behavioral disorders.

• Receive an update on the types of state assessments being developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and Kansas University's Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation.

• Receive information about the Kansas Educational Leadership Institute.

• Hear a report from the Kansas Foundation for Ag in the Classroom.

• Hear a report about the Technical Assistance Systems Network.

• And review proposed funding options for Career and Technical Education programs.