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Policy Change Ensures All Students Receive Proper Nutrition to Learn and Thrive

By Michael Jacoby posted 02-17-2022 14:11

  

Illinois ASBO Press Release

 

Legislation Improves Equity for Low-Income and Minority Students

by Expanding Access to Higher Quality School Meals

Policy Change Ensures All Students Receive Proper Nutrition to Learn and Thrive

 

SPRINGFIELD – Legislation sponsored by House Deputy Majority Leader and Speaker Pro Tempore Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, that would increase equity for low-income and minority students by expanding access to higher quality school meals across the state was approved by the House Elementary & Secondary Education Committee this afternoon. The legislation would ensure that all students receive the nutrition needed to learn and thrive regardless of their racial or economic background.

 

Under current law, school districts enrolled in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) are required to consider only the lowest-priced meals when contracting with food service providers. This lowest-cost restraint makes for an extremely challenging and burdensome procurement process where food quality and taste are essentially non-factors. School districts that do not participate in the NSLP face no such restrictions, and therefore can purchase higher-quality food.

 

This inequity largely impacts lower-income and minority communities across the state, and places children enrolled at schools participating in the NSLP at a significant disadvantage compared to their peers at wealthier schools.

 

“For many minority and low-income students, meals provided at school are often the only reliable source of nutrition needed to power learning, which makes this more than a procurement issue – it is a social justice issue,” said Gordon-Booth, who serves as Deputy Majority Leader and Speaker Pro Tempore of the Illinois House. “It’s not only unfair that state law prevents school districts in lower-income areas from offering food that is as nutritious as what children receive in wealthier areas, but also unjust. All children in our state deserve equal access to healthy meals, which often determine academic success.”

 

HB 4813 would allow Illinois school districts to grade potential food service vendors with a matrix to better evaluate contractors and provide for meaningful participation of students and staff in the evaluation process. This proposal would give districts flexibility to account for food quality and taste, along with other variables including vendor references, history, and innovation, without the risk of awarding contracts that contain overly inflated costs or encourage a continued race to the bottom.

 

The legislation is supported by the Illinois Association of School Business Officials, as school districts across the state have pointed to current cost limitations as the main reason for low food quality and low consumption rates by students. Data suggests that students who do not eat a full lunch or breakfast are less prepared to succeed in the classroom. Adequate nutrition has been linked to students performing better in math, reading, attendance and test taking. Providing better meal options would increase consumption rates by students and improve academic performance.

 

The pandemic underscored the important role school districts and food service providers play in creating equitable outcomes for students, as disruptions in the daily school schedule left many students and families unsure where they could turn for nutritious meals. While school districts quickly pivoted, partnering with food service providers to ensure that no student went hungry, this legislation would bring about a more permanent solution to inequalities in food access.

 

“This legislation opens the door for school districts and food service providers to make decisions based on what’s best for our students, not just the lowest bid,” said Todd Drafall, Assistant Superintendent for Business for business at Downers Grove School District 58 and a member of the Board of Directors of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials. “Our goal should be to provide the best quality of service and best quality of food at a competitive price.”

 

In addition to the Illinois Association of School Business Officials, the legislation is supported by a broad coalition including: Chicago Food Policy Action Council, Chicago Public Schools, ED-RED, Greater Chicago Food Depository, Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois Heart Association, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Principals Association, Indian Prairie School District 240, Large Unit District Association, Woodridge School District, West Aurora School District, Joliet School District 86, LEND and the FIP Action Fund.

 

About The Illinois Association of School Business Officials

The Illinois Association of School Business Officials is devoted to the school business management profession. Our mission is to provide our members and stakeholders with a comprehensive range of professional development activities, services and advocacy through equitable and inclusive networking and participation.

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