Club bake sales, cook-offs and other food-based fundraisers in schools can take place only 30 days on each campus this year in Tennessee as state officials grapple with new federal health regulations.
The Tennessee State Board of Education settled on that figure Monday after education officials bemoaned potential administrative headaches that will result from one of the many guidelines carved out in the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that goes into effect this year.
"If somebody wants to object to federal intrusion in what's going on in schools, I think this would be an ideal place to target their objections as opposed to some of the other things people are tending to complain about," state board of education chairman Fielding Rolston said, alluding to complaints lobbed at new Common Core standards.
"It's unbelievable to me the amount of guidelines that are there."
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which went into effect on July 1, aims to tighten nutritional standards of food and snacks served in K-12 schools in effort to cut down on fat and salt.
In doing so, it gave the the U.S. agriculture secretary new jurisdiction over an entire school's campus in addition to the cafeteria, thus bringing regulations to all parts of the building during the school day — from the lunch line and hallway vending machines to the bookstore.
The law spells out a special provision for the allowance of "infrequent" school-based food fundraisers in which special items can be sold. It requires states to set the standard, or else the default would be none at all.
Any food fundraiser in schools, no matter the size or scale, will count for one of the 30 days permitted by the new policy, which school principals are expected to enforce. The state board of education voted unanimously to pick that number.
"That means if the Spanish club sells sausage biscuits one morning, that's one day," said David Sevier, deputy executive director of the state board of education. "If there's a school-wide event where all the teachers cook hamburgers for the seniors, then that's a day. If there's a day when the parents do pizza for the entire school, that's a day.
"If it's 10 kids or 1,000 kids, it's still counting as one of those events."
The provision does not affect concessions sold during sporting events or other activities or dinners that occur outside school hours. It also permits items like cookie dough that would be cooked and consumed away from the campus. Students will also be free to market snacks permitted under new nutrition codes.
"If I thought I could generate revenue selling carrot sticks, I could tear it up," Sevier said.
Higher nutritional standards, an area championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, have faced a backlash in many places as some school districts opt out. Its implementation, though, has been largely quiet in Middle Tennessee. Metro Nashville school officials, for example, says the system has already started phasing in some elements, such as sodium requirements, and has hired a chef to work with dietitians to alter recipes.
"I know there's a lot of districts that are kind of balking at it, saying it's a lot to do, but we feel like we're prepared," MNPS spokesman Joe Bass said, pointing to the transition to a la carte items, for instance, that now comply with new guidelines.
But when it comes to school bake sales, some education officials are miffed by the restrictions.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman called it "quite remarkable" that food fundraisers would be regulated by how many days they can be held, noting that this will prevent high school sports teams from holding weekly food fundraisers.
"I have a daughter in high school who's actually experienced this. There are quite a lot of bake sales and so on. And so if you're a principal, you have to basically declare Tuesday 'Bake Sale Day' [for all clubs] — otherwise you're almost certain to go over."