How HR 610 Could Affect What Your Kid Eats For School Lunch

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Parents and educators were terrified when Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was confirmed, and it turns out, it was for good reason. The first sweeping change to education threatened by the new administration, H.R. 610, could affect your kid's school lunch, their school's funding, and even their right to receive an education without being discriminated against. The bill, referred to as the Choices in Education Act of 2017, is purported to be a pathway to the federal government issuing block grants to states, and those grants can then be used for vouchers. It is, in part, about school vouchers, but it's so much more than that.

First of all, let's get the voucher thing out of the way: they are a terrible idea. DeVos has previously pushed such programs in Michigan and Florida (thanks to her billions of dollars, she was able to wield tremendous power even before she officially held office). The voucher system has led to Detroit becoming a haven for unregulated, for-profit charter schools, turning out abysmal test scores, and special needs students in Florida signing away their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in order to receive what amounts to a discount coupon to a private school with no state-required standards.

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H.R. 610 would also repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, the other Bush, and Obama all agreed was completely reasonable. Johnson's act, which came even before the Department existed, outlined federal funding for public schools, basic curriculum guidelines, and anti-discrimination protections which are still being contested to this day, unfortunately. The bill would also strip DeVos of the authority to do anything other than hand over the cash, effectively eliminating all oversight for public education and preventing any future regulations from being enacted.

But the last bit is a real head-scratcher. Touted as the No Hungry Kids Act, Iowa Rep. Steve King has been trying to push this legislation through since 2012. The bill would overturn the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a measure that required schools to provide more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while limiting sodium, trans fat, and saturated fat. King claims that schoolchildren are going hungry under the current guidelines, apparently based off of the claims of one parody video created by Kansas students four years ago, which he obsessively shared and reshared on his now-defunct Facebook page. King also cited the same video in an op-ed he co-authored with Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, in which they falsely claimed that "carbohydrate and meat portions have been dramatically reduced" from school meals.

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In fact, grain portion requirements have increased for both breakfast and lunch for all students, and meat portions have increased for all grades except 4 and 5 (their minimum has dropped by one ounce, now that they're no longer in the same category as high school students). H.R. 610 would eliminate virtually all nutritional requirements for school lunches, leaving schools free to replace fresh fruit with the Salisbury steaks of yore. This might not make much of a difference to kids who pack a lunch or live in a well-off district, but many children depend on school breakfast and lunch, and when things are left up to the states, they don't always do what's best for their residents. America's children need their rights to healthy food and appropriate education protected, not demolished. Call or email your representative to let them know where you stand on H.R. 610.