For decades, underfunded programs within schools have relied on bake sales to raise money. Traditionally, popular items like homemade cupcakes, cookies, and other sweets have generated heaps of revenue, funding school clubs, sports teams’ uniforms, and other academic essentials. However, The Wall Street Journal is reporting on new federal regulations, set to take effect this fall in many US states, that would so seriously limit bake sales as to render them ineffective, unprofitable, and pointless in most cases.
The regulations, which were passed into law as a part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that emerged from Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative, compel schools to restrict food choices according to federal nutritional standards. However, these new rules do not just affect the lunch room. Food carts, vending machines, and bake sales must also meet strict nutritional requirements that essentially prohibit the majority of items typically sold through them. The new rules also restrict the frequency with which school programs can raise money by selling foodstuffs. In an effort to get ready for the law, some school systems have already banned the sale of Girl Scout cookies on campus.
Basically, all food items sold on school grounds must meet a wide array of nutritional standards including limits on calorie, sodium, sugar, and fat content. Fun foods that people like to purchase at bake sales like cookies, cakes, doughnuts, and candy bars will not meet requirements, leaving school clubs to rely on less-popular choices like fruit cups and rice cakes when raising funds. The regulations also limit the sale of foods that do not feature labels identifying nutritional content, which will effectively ban homemade items. This is causing some school districts to favor processed foods instead. According to The Wall Street Journal, president-elect Keli Gill of the Alabama Parent Teacher Association said, “We use prepackaged food because it has to have nutritional requirements posted. Items like apples are perishable and don’t last as long, so we don’t want to waste money and have it go bad on us.”
Under the law, states are allowed to claim an exemption establishing a limited number of days each year during which unregulated bake sale fundraisers can take place. 32 states, however, have yet to do so, meaning, unless policies are changed, schools in those states will not be allowed to have them at all. Though the above-embedded video coverage by HLN claims that only 12 states will be enacting these new rules in the fall, it is likely that the network was erroneously referring to the 12 states that have already enacted their own restrictions on bake sales in the past, which are already in effect. Tennessee, an example of a state that has claimed an exemption, opted to implement a policy whereby schools can allow the sale of food for fundraisers on 30 days out of the year. David Sevier, deputy executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education, described to The Tennessean how the policy will work, “That means if the Spanish club sells sausage biscuits one morning, that’s one day. If there’s a schoolwide event where all the teachers cook hamburgers for the seniors, then that’s a day… If it’s 10 kids or 1,000 kids, it’s still counting as one of those events.”
According to Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, “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.” Some sports teams currently rely on weekly bake sales for funding.
Schools who are found in violation of the new rules could face thousands in fines. Said David Sevier, “Schools have relied on these types of sales as revenue streams for sports, cheering clubs, marching bands. We get the obesity issue, but we don’t want to jerk this out from under the kids.” The New York Times noted, back in 2010, that cafeteria menus designed to meet these new regulations have been widely rejected by students, meaning it is unlikely that fundraising efforts selling healthier products will generate similar revenues. David Sevier also told The Tennessean, “If I thought I could generate revenue selling carrot sticks, I could tear it up.”