If ever I needed to channel Paul Harvey, now is the time. Since SB 1070, I don't think I have ever witnessed more false statements, misunderstandings and outright lies than I have with the school lunch opt-out bill. So with great respect for a radio legend, here is the rest of the story...
Approximately six years ago, a large nutrition bill worked its way through the Legislature. For some reason at that time, someone decided to make school lunch participation mandatory for K-8 district grades, instead of voluntary like it had been for the past 55 years. I say for some reason because all K-8 district grades over 100 kids were already participating in the program. High schools and charter schools were exempted from the new mandate. An interesting point to note, on April 20, 2005 when the bill came up for a final vote in the House, almost every Democrat and the most conservative Republicans voted no. They didn't see why a new mandate was necessary. The bill only passed with four votes to spare 34-26.
Fast forward to today. The USDA updates its school lunch rules approximately every 14-15 years. This year (2012) happens to be the year that the rules are undergoing a complete overhaul. The new rules cover everything from what has to be served, what portion sizes are allowed, how much schools have to charge kids, how often schools are audited, etc. As quoted in the paper on Saturday, Loretta Zullo, Mesa's School Foodservice Director said she is "anxiously" awaiting the final approved changes to the program, which would increase the required number of fruits, vegetables and whole grain products served, as well as change how districts can calculate how much they charge. Under the first proposals put out, Zullo said it could have resulted in a lot of increased cost for the district, but she anticipated Mesa could weather it. "It's a complicated formula," she said of the proposed way districts must charge for meals. "Districts may have to supplement (meal prices) from the general fund. Districts are not going to want to do that. They do not have the money to do that."
In anticipation of all the new rules being rolled out in 2012, I felt it would be a good idea to go back to the law Arizona districts used to follow six years ago. Besides, 41 other states let districts choose whether or not to participate in the national school lunch program. Only nine mandate it, including Arizona. Contrary to what has been reported, I am not anti-fresh fruit, anti-nutritious meals, or anti-low income children. I simply want schools to have flexibility to tackle their challenges in the best way they see fit. This is why the Arizona School Boards Association supports the bill. I firmly believe not a single child will go hungry as a result of this bill. Why else would 41 other states not feel compelled to force their districts to participate in the federal school lunch program? And why were all schools participating before the law was changed six years ago? This mandate is unnecessary.
SB 1061 is a simple one word change - "shall" to "may". Nothing more, nothing less.
Supporters of SB 1061 and Opponents to the bill basically disagree on one major point - can local communities and constituents be trusted to take care of the children in their charge? I firmly fall on the side of local control, freedom, and self-governance. The loudest opponents to SB 1061 claim that only through mandates can people be trusted to do what is in the best interest of children. I sure hope this is not the direction we are headed as a country.
With regards to a conflict of interest, I do own a company that works in the school nutrition area. State governments hire my company to audit menus and conduct on-site audits. I do not do any reviews or audits in Arizona. I stand to gain absolutely nothing from this bill passing. And no, contrary to what a few blogs have reported, I do not provide food to Arizona schools. As Senate Education Chair I am simply trying to eliminate a mandate in state statute that takes away a local community's right to choose what is best for their children.
In conclusion, nothing is worse than a slow erosion of liberty because we never see it coming. And as Paul Harvey would say, "now you know the rest of the story!"
Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, represents District 19 at the Arizona Legislature.