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February 26 2015

Virginia Legislature: Let's Liberate the Bake Sale!

Patrice J. Lee

Some members of the Virginia legislature are fed up with regulations that mandate whole wheat muffins at school bake sales, while prohibiting sugary ones. Looks like they are going to bring back donuts, cakes, and other delightful sugary items to school bake sales wit a piece of legislation that considerably loosens federal regulations on what can be sold at bake sales.

Following federal guidelines that took effect this school year, schools were forced to shelve bake sale items that don’t meet the same nutritional guidelines set for school lunch and breakfast. These are the same guidelines that, beloved of the First Lady, have left students hungry, calorie-deprived, and turning to Twitter to express their outrage over the miniscule portions or unpalatable meals.

As we’ve explained, banning bake sales is not the answer to solving childhood obesity. At least a dozen states have established their own policies to circumvent regulations in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 which banned school bake sales. Now Virginia is adding itself to the list.

A bill which grants schools certain exceptions to the nutritional rules has cleared both Houses of the Virginia legislature. In current form, the bill, which awaits the signature of Governor  Terry McAuliffe, who may sign or veto it, would permit schools to host up to thirty bake sales a year that feature the previously forbidden sugary items.  It hasn’t been without challenge as opponents claim that bringing school bake sales back will make kids even fatter.

It’s funny, when we think back to the bake sales of the ‘50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, kids were more fit and active than they are today. So can we honestly blame those yummy cupcakes and frosting for juvenile obesity?

The Washington Post reports:

“Previously, we were allowed to sell whatever we wanted,” said Anne Jacobsen, a parent volunteer. “Since we’ve gone to the ‘smart snacks,’ sales have dropped by more than half. The kids just don’t want it.”

Never fans of new federal regulations, Virginia’s Republican-controlled legislature is trying to come to the rescue with a bill that has cleared both chambers granting schools exceptions to the rules.

The measure flew through the House without controversy, but in the Senate, it inspired one of this year’s more animated debates, pitting those concerned about childhood obesity against lawmakers wary of government overreach.

Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) warned colleagues not to vote for the bill “unless you believe America’s just not fat enough.”

Sen. Charles W. “Bill” Carrico Sr. (R-Grayson), on the other hand, said he managed to survive the cinnamon rolls his mother, Alba Carrico, used to bake in the cafeteria of Marion Middle School in Smyth County in far Southwest Virginia.

While Republicans were largely for the bill, the debate did not fall neatly along partisan lines. Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier) spoke against it, noting how much her own children gravitate toward unhealthful foods when given the chance. And with Democrats mostly against the measure, Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D-Fairfax) said he supported it because bake sales should be left to the discretion of local school boards.

Aside from being the wrong way to combat childhood obesity (how about Mom telling Trudy that half donut is enough?), the ban left out two very important considerations: entrepreneurship and philanthropy.

School bake sales don’t – or didn’t – exist just because kids were hungry after school. They usually fund activities that squeezed school budgets can’t afford to provide otherwise such as field trips to local museums, or new uniforms for band and sports teams. Then there are the bake sales that benefit causes such as local animal shelters or disaster relief.

For younger generations who need to learn about entrepreneurship, banning the bake sale (or in effect banning if you can’t sell sugary goodies) cuts them out of an experience that teaches them about small businesses. They lose out on marketplace lessons: creating goods that fill a market demand, advertising and marketing, setting prices, profit, and for those with a social motivation, giving away the profits to charity. As one parent observed:

Sure, I wasn’t thrilled when my son came home from school not long ago with a hunk of brownie bigger than a brick and an empty allowance jar after a class bake sale...

But he also told me about the animal shelter that the kids in fourth grade were raising money for. Then he and his brother spent two nights plotting to sell their own baked goods on our sidewalk to raise money for some of the expensive Lego sets I cruelly won’t buy for them.

… the inspiration — entrepreneurship, independence, self-reliance, creation of a product — all came from a bake sale.

It’s a very important life lesson. Kids want money, they make something people want, they sell it. Bingo! Business 101 on a card table. I’m willing to add a few veggies and reduce the carbs later in the week in exchange for that light-bulb moment.

The classic school bake sale to raise cash for sports equipment, class trips or charitable causes is actually an essential part of a curriculum.

The Virginia legislature has voted to try to remedy bad federal policy which is one slice of bad cake. However, do we really need more federal input into what we input into our mouths?

Obesity is a serious national problem and kids overall need to get healthier, but banning bake sales won’t do it – neither does starving them at lunch time. All of these policies amount to feeding a malnourished person with a Tic-Tac.

 

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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