Noem laments GAO report on federal school-lunch program’s unpopularity

U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) released a statement late last week, voicing concerns she has in the wake of a recent Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) report that showed an abrupt decline in participation in the National School Lunch Program over the past three years.

The report indicated a reduction of 1.4 million children, or 4.5 percent, between the 2010-11 and 2013-14 school years. Noem noted the report’s statement that “new federal nutrition requirements contributed to the decrease.”

“My husband and I work hard to make sure healthy food goes on our kids’ plates at home, but we understand that if it doesn’t taste good, our kids aren’t going to eat it,” Noem said. “I think that’s something most parents have experienced.”

“This report once again shows that if families can afford it, more and more are sending their kids to school with a sack lunch, but if finances are tight, kids are forced to stay in the program,” Noem said. “I remain very concerned that the new regulations scheduled to take effect in the coming years will only make this phenomena worse.”

The GAO report was released as part of a study that Noem requested, along with Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN). Details from the GAO report show a continued decline in school meal-program participation since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act took effect in 2010. Conversely, participation in the school-lunch program had been increasing steadily for many years prior to 2010.

“We want our kids to be served healthy and nutritious foods through the school-lunch program, but the issue comes when federal mandates override local decisions by school boards and administrators,” Neil Putnam, a member of the Mitchell School Board and the Western Region director for the National School Board Association, said. “We need to give school districts the flexibility to make decisions at the local level that support our students’ overall success and ensure financial resources are not being taken away from instruction.”