Rep. Steve Womack is hoping to keep the java flowing at Harrison High School’s House of Grounds.
Womack, a Republican from Rogers, filed legislation on Wednesday that would exempt such school-based enterprises from new federal nutrition standards aimed at improving healthy meal choices at schools.
"This is yet another example of out-of-touch Washington bureaucrats tightening their grip on the American people without considering the consequences – consequences that, this time, will prevent high school students in Harrison and across the country from gaining valuable skills and experience that will prepare them to be leaders," Womack said.
The "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act" was signed into law in 2010 to improve the nutritional quality of lunches served at public schools as a way to reduce the nation’s child obesity epidemic.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has since developed healthier standards that have been phased in over the last two school years with more changes coming this year. Last year, USDA issued an interim final rule expanding the new nutritional standards to all foods sold in schools.
Womack’s bill the "Jumpstarting Occupational-learning and Entrepreneurialism (JOE) Act" would exempt school-based enterprises from the nutritional requirements that would significantly limit the hours of operation and types of food and beverages they can sell.
Harrison High School students staff the House of Grounds, where they get hands-on experience in running a small business. The in-school coffee shop is open for a few hours in the mornings and afternoons – selling coffee drinks, bottled water and various school supplies.
House Republicans have taken aim this week at the "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act" as another example of government overreach. The House Appropriations Committee, which Womack is a member, is considering a spending bill that would allow schools to opt out of the standards if they had a net loss on school food programs for a six-month period.
Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., who chairs the agriculture subcommittee, said the regulations have driven up the cost of meals and driven participation down.
"As well intended as the people in Washington believe themselves to be, the reality is that from a practical standpoint these regulations are just plain not working out in some individual school districts," Aderholt said.
On Tuesday, USDA announced that it would allow schools to apply for waivers to opt out of a requirement that next year they use 100 percent whole-grain. Many schools have complained that the requirement is difficult to meet when making pastas, biscuits, tortillas and grits.
"Schools raised legitimate concerns that acceptable whole-grain rich pasta products were not available. We worked to find a solution which will allow more time for industry to develop products that will work for schools," said Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at the USDA.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., welcomed USDA’s decision to delay the whole-grain rule saying Arkansas schools have had a difficult time implementing the rules.
"I’ll continue to push to ensure our school districts have the flexibility they need to meet their goals and keep our kids healthy and successful," he said.