January 13, 2011
State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Praises New School
Meal Guidelines, Expresses Concern about Funding Gap
SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today praised proposed stronger federal school meal nutrition standards but expressed concerns that unless accompanied by more funding, compliance would be a challenge for schools.
"The United States Department of Agriculture has proposed cordon bleu standards but so far Congress has provided only fast-food funding," Torlakson said.
Fifty-five percent of California's 6.2 million students receive free or reduced-price meals.
Torlakson, who as a legislator authored legislation to improve student nutrition and fitness, said the proposed federal guidelines to reduce sodium in school meals, increase consumption of whole grains, fresh fruits, and low-fat milk were long overdue.
"This is the right recipe for providing healthier meals to students," Torlakson said. "But the question is, how do schools pay the bill?"
Torlakson noted that the Department of Agriculture itself estimates the new standards would cost schools an additional 64 cents per student per day for both breakfast and lunch, but the reimbursement increase is only 6 cents – leaving a 58-cent funding gap.
Torlakson, who last week declared a state of financial emergency in California's schools after three years of budget cuts totaling $18 billion, said he would work with the Obama administration to persuade Congress to provide schools the resources they need. He said he wants to be sure the funding gap doesn't lead school districts to eliminate school breakfast programs.
"Study after study tells us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and we can't afford to go backward on the progress we've made in ensuring that our students get a meal that improves their learning and good health," Torlakson said.