The USDA emphasizes new nutrition standards as a way to improve school lunches-breakfasts and help feed children who may be coming to school too hungry to learn. And, USDA offers $4 million to improve school cafeteria fare.
The new competitive grants are key, says Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. The $4 million (for 30 awards) will help school education agencies implement the new national professional standards for all school nutrition employees who manage and operate the National School Lunch (NSLP) and School Breakfast Programs (SBP). The new standards, released in the Federal Register are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA).
The competition: Professional Standards Training Grant (CFDA Number: 10.547) (Funding Opportunity Number: USDA-FNS-PRO-STANDARDS-FY2015) is open to state education agencies. Up to $150,000 may be requested per state agency.
Deadline: June 8 (letters of intent due April 14).
The grants will pay for training that satisfies the requirements of the professional standards rule. A central component of the rule, establishing minimum education and training requirements, ensures that school nutrition personnel have the knowledge and skills necessary to perform their duties and responsibilities effectively. In developing the final professional standards rule, USDA considered input from a variety of sources, including representatives from state agencies, school districts, and school nutrition professional associations, Concannon says.
As a result, the final rule provides flexibility by creating minimum hiring standards for school food authority directors based on district size. There are also minimum hiring standards for both state directors of school nutrition programs and state directors of distributing agencies that oversee USDA foods, Concannon says.
The rule requires a minimum amount of annual training hours for all new and current state school nutrition directors, state distributing agency directors, school nutrition directors, managers, and staff. Required topic areas will vary according to position and job requirements. These changes are effective July 1, with several built in flexibilities intended to address the challenges faced by smaller school districts.
“These grants and new standards will ensure that school nutrition personnel have the training and tools they need to plan, prepare, and purchase healthy products to create nutritious and enjoyable school meals,” says Concannon.
At the same time, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is touting a new report that underscores the need for good child nutrition. “Good nutrition is just as important to a child’s future as a quality education—maybe even more so. We can’t expect kids to learn, if they aren’t properly nourished,” Vilsack says.
The advocacy group, No Kid Hungry, recently completed a national survey of 1,000 educators for a new report, Hunger In Our Schools. It highlights the fact that hunger hampers a child’s ability to learn, but school breakfast offers a chance to solve this problem for millions of children. At a time when a majority of America’s public school students come from low-income backgrounds, childhood hunger is a reality in American public schools. Among educators surveyed in the report, 76% say they have students who regularly come to school hungry.
In fact, educators who regularly see children come to school hungry describe seeing long list of associated effects, including an inability to concentrate (88%), a lack of motivation (87%), behavioral problems (65%), illness (53%) and poor academic performance (84%). The report recommends that schools take greater advantage of the USDA school breakfast program that can improve students’ academic achievement and health. Nine out of ten educators in the survey say breakfast is critical to academic achievement, and 97% of educators say it’s important that children from low-income families have access to free, healthy breakfasts during the school year.
Contact: Professional Standards Training Grant solicitation (); Leslie Byrd, 703/305-2867; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org