A West Virginia Pre-K school teacher is facing a federal penalty for a sinister crime: giving little kids “wrapped candy” as a reward for their hard work and good behavior. She should have known better than to violate federal school lunch rules.
A local school nutrition director was required to drop the dime on this teacher, but parents and teachers have rallied around her, collecting money to help her pay the expected fine.
This is the new battle in the food fight that pits students and schools against First Lady Michelle Obama and her army of Washington food regulators. To punish schools that refuse to comply with tightened regulations on what students get served, the federal government will now be handing out fines.
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed rules last week to give teeth to parts of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act championed by Obama as a part of her anti-obesity campaign. Forget her dancing with a turnip and doing the dougie with kids at the White House, this regulation imposes fines for “egregious or persistent disregard” for school lunch and breakfast rules. As a reminder, schools must limit sodium and calorie and get white grains of their students’ plates.
The new rules propose levels of fines: For the first offense, schools are assessed a penalty of one percent of the amount of meal reimbursements earned for the fiscal year. Second offence, the fine jumps to five percent, and then it doubles to 10 percent for the third and subsequent violations. Interest can be charged on your penalty and you can’t use any federal funds to pay the fines. If you don’t pay those fine, expect to be kicked out of the federal program. For context, Alabama received $210,937,195 in cash payments through the school lunch program in 2015. The one percent fine would total $2.1 million and a 10 percent fine would cost $21 million. How many students could’ve been educated with that money?
It’s not just schools that will fall under these penalties but food authorities at day care centers and day care providers as well – anyone who receives federal funding to provide kids with meals.
The USDA claims that the goals of the new proposals are to ensure effectiveness and integrity with its child nutrition programs and protect against theft of funds and financial mismanagement. That’s surprising given the myriad examples from the USDA and other federal agencies where fraud and mismanagement occurred precisely because integrity and effectiveness are not priorities.
The Washington Free Beacon reports:
The government insisted that fines would be limited only to schools, school food authorities, and state agencies that have “failed to correct severe mismanagement of any program, disregarded a requirement of which it has been informed, or failed to correct repeated violations of program requirements.”
“It is important to note that the statutory scheme only anticipates assessments be established in instances of severe mismanagement of a program, disregard of a program requirement of which the program operator had been informed, or failure to correct repeated violations [emphasis in original],” according to the proposed regulation. “These criteria suggest that violations that would result in assessments would be egregious or persistent in nature, remaining unresolved after the normal monitoring and oversight activities have failed to secure corrective action.”
The Food and Nutrition Service is targeting schools that refuse to comply with Mrs. Obama’s lunch rules and said monetary penalties are a “useful tool” to get noncompliant cafeterias in line.
“The Department anticipates assessments would be established only on rare occasions in securing corrective action,” they added. “However, it should serve as a useful tool when egregious or persistent disregard of Program requirements occurs.”
This school lunch fight has left egg on Michelle’s face. Nearly 1.5 million students stopped eating lunch at school at school. Those who still do have taken to Twitter with #ThanksMichelleObama to capture the yucky tasty and mediocre portion sizes. School districts are grappling with piles of uneaten food and wasted funding.
Sadly, federal money doesn't come without strings attached. We can all agree though that controlling what goes into our mouths is a priority for too many big-government advocates who think they know what’s best for us and our children.