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AAE Federal Update January 25, 2011
posted by: Alix | January 25, 2011, 03:36 PM   

USDA Releases School Nutrition Guidelines

The Department of Education has released guidelines for healthy school lunches in partnership with the Institute of Medicine, a Washington-based policy group that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) consulted for recommendations.

The USDA is accepting comments on the proposed rules through April 13, 2011 and will release final rules after the public comment period expires. This step in the process comes on the heels of last year's $4.5 billion Child Nutrition Act that requires school systems to meet certain nutrition guidelines.

Among its many recommendations, the institute said the new standards should: increase fruit and vegetable offerings; limit milk to the low-fat or fat-free variety; introduce more whole grains to school meals; establish minimum and maximum calorie levels for meals; and, reduce sodium.

Although many of these recommendations have been in place for some time, the new legislation would mandate several changes. For example, while all schools are encouraged to incorporate whole grains into school lunches, the proposed rule requires that at least half the grains in each school meal be whole as opposed to refined.

Experts warn that although the nutrition improvements will benefit children, the financial burdens will be difficult to overcome as district food service budgets are already stressed. The bill is estimated to add about six cents per meal onto school budgets.

New Congress Gives Hope to School Choice Advocates

This week (January 23-29) is the first ever National School Choice Week. Composed over 150 advocacy and grassroots organizations, National School Choice Week seeks to empower parents to choose an education that is best suited for their child. On the heels of this first ever alliance, school choice advocates are hopeful that the new Congress will come together in an effort to promote school choice policies.

One such policy is the federal school voucher program in Washington, D.C. The program was enacted by Congress in 2004 to provide scholarships of up to $7,500 for low-income children in the 58,000-student District of Columbia school system to attend higher-performing schools. Students in low-performing schools and those from low-income families are given priority under the program.

The program was allowed to expire in 2009 by the Democrat-controlled Congress. This year, Senator Lieberman an Independent from who caucuses with the Democrats, is teaming up with Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner to craft legislation that would permit new students to take advantage of the program.

Another avenue for school choice advocates to explore is the expansion of online schools. Legislation that would give more flexibility or funding incentives to schools for expanding online learning options is being proposed as well. At a time when fiscal responsibility is touted as one of the key priorities of the new Congress, online learning initiatives could be seen as a compromise.

"Using online tools is a quick and easy way of giving families options without transporting the kids physically to another building," said Nina Rees, vice president for strategic initiatives at Knowledge Universe. "It could be considerably cheaper."

Obama to Address Education in State of the Union Speech

Despite tough talk from Republicans in the House about slashing federal spending, President Obama will call for increased federal education spending in Tuesday's planned State of the Union speech.

Mr. Obama will argue that the U.S., even while trying to reduce its budget deficit, must make investments to produce job growth and boost U.S. competitiveness in the global economy, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In addition to proposed infrastructure investments, the president will call for money to restructure No Child Left Behind's testing mandates and institute more competitive grants.

The money would most likely come in the form of grants like Race to the Top to supplement state education spending as a means to jump start reforms.

AAE Attends Department of Education Stakeholders Forum

On Monday, AAE participated in the Education Stakeholders Forum at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., Secretary Duncan briefed attendees about the department's progress of various campaigns including a new initiative to share state education profiles and the commitment to work with the new Congress in the coming year. AAE will continue to monitor and weigh in on federal education policy developments that affect AAE state partners and AAE members. Interested parties can get frequent updates on education news by visiting AAE's blog.

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