Schools are being force fed new rules

Guest Editorial
With a nation of fat children who are only getting fatter, there’s no questioning the federal government’s attention to what kids eat in school. Parents, teachers and communities that believe in local control of school districts, however, should question its tactics.

President Obama last week signed a law that gives the federal Department of Agriculture power to write tougher regulations for what is served in schools. Cafeterias shouldn’t expect to toss out the pizza and burgers, but they’ll have to be sure they’re using healthier ingredients.

Putting aside the law’s $4.5 billion price tag, this raises a few problems. The law provides schools with some money, but not enough to rewrite an entire menu. Is this a textbook example of an unfunded mandate? Of course it is.

Shouldn’t school officials decide what food to serve? Several local school districts already use healthy approaches that include veggies in the cafeteria, low-fat menu items and banning soft drinks. But what if they don’t? Might a school instead focus on classroom education and trust its students to make good food decisions on their own? Society leaves it to parents to decide what their kids will eat. We don’t ban Fruit Loops from supermarkets, do we?

There’s no compelling public argument for kids to eat junk food, not when childhood obesity and diabetes are on the rise. It would be ideal for every school district to come to a similar food policy on its own.

Schools aren’t getting a choice, though. They’re being spoon fed their orders from the federal government. We’d rather see Congress and the president recognize schools that are addressing kids’ eating habits creatively and intelligently. Let good ideas rise from the bottom up, instead of being handed down from Washington.

Everyone shares the same goal. Helping children to stay healthy is critical. What’s hard to digest is the assumption that schools can’t make good decisions on their own.