Free lunch money from feds comes with a price: No cupcake ‘incursions’ in the classroom

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By DAVID BOYLE

Anchorage School Board member Kelly Lessens has introduced a revised  policy on school breakfast and lunch programs, a policy she says will make the Anchorage School District conform to both federal and state laws that are being rolled out later this year.

While state law only requires a district to provide health and physical education for students, federal law is more restrictive for districts wanting to receive federal funds. That federal dollar is what Lessens and the school board are after, and federal dollars come with regulations.

The ASD received $20.9 million for the breakfast/lunch program in 2020. Due to schools being closed in 2021, there was a dramatic decrease to $12.7 million in 2021 in federal taxpayer funding for the breakfast/lunch program.

One can see why adhering to federal limitations regarding feeding students is important — it’s about the money. Each student is funded depending on whether the student is on the free or reduced lunch program. The more free lunch students you have, the more federal funding you get.

In 2020, the district had 16,343 students in the free lunch program and 341 students in the reduced lunch program. More than 43 percent of all ASD students were enrolled in one or the other program.  

To qualify for free/reduced price lunches, a household must meet the income eligibility guidelines, which is based on household size. To qualify for a free lunch, a household would have an income of less than $43,069 annually. That household would qualify for a reduced-price meal with an income of less than $61,291.

The federal government pays (through the State of Alaska) ASD $5.94 for each free lunch and $5.54 for each reduced-price lunch. 

There is also a Community Eligibility Provision, which allows the district to receive the free lunch payments for all students in a specific school if more than 40% of its students qualify for a free lunch. So, if a household of four has an income of $100,000 or even more, those students also get a free lunch, if the school has 40 percent or more students on the free/reduced lunch programs.

If the district is certified to be in compliance with the “program” meal pattern, it receives another 6 cents per served lunch. This is a laborious process prescribed by the federal government that includes counting vegetable servings by the type, serving size, and how many were served. Here is a link to the requirements; they read like military specifications.

To ensure the the district gets maximum funding from the federal government, Kelly Lessens’ policy restricts food sale fundraising and “classroom incursions” in nutrition. An incursion is not something happens in Ukraine, in this instance. An incursion is a tray of cupcakes or cookies brought by a parent for a bake sale.

Under this policy, food sale fundraisers that happen during the day must adhere to federal SMART snack guidelines. “Fundraising groups offering SMART-Snack-compliant food must provide receipts and nutritional labels and/or product specifications for all foods offered for sale.”

A classroom incursion would also occur if a parent brought cupcakes to celebrate a student’s birthday. If a family does not want to participate in classroom food incursions, it must fill out an opt-out form at the beginning of the school year. Parents are able to opt-out of this program much more easily than they can opt- out of sex education.  

However, to show compliance to the federal government, there is a burgeoning bureaucratic workload for school staff. 

In 2020 the district spent $21,595,000 on student nutrition; in 2021 that dropped to $16,035,000. Note that in 2021 the district was closed to in-person learning and the district was only delivering lunches to neighborhoods. Here is a chart showing expenditures over the years:

The school nutrition program required 213 full-time equivalent positions in both 2020 and 2021. 

If the Anchorage School District wants to continue receiving federal taxpayer funds for school lunches, it must follow the federal regulations, including the no-cupcake rules, or lose those dollars.

The federal government controls our K-12 education system through its school lunch/breakfast/snack program, just like it controls our health care system through its mandated hospital protocols via Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements.

If the federal government can control what our kids eat for snacks at school, will mask mandates be next? Will a national curriculum be the next chapter in the book of bureaucracy? 

31 COMMENTS

  1. No lunch is free. Can we please get the schools out of the social work business? And the mental health business? These are handled better by professionals in those fields, not by teachers. This becomes apparent when you see the test scores of the kids; the teachers can’t really even teach.

    • I certainly agree with your comment. Our teachers today are products of a broken system but they don’t know that because they have no frame of reference. I’ll never understand why people think we can legislate parenting? Homes can have plenty of income but the money isn’t necessarily used to feed the children.

  2. Wow more spending, why with all of these non profit food banks, what’s next universal basic income? Ohhh that’s already happening in Mega Cities. Tyranny is here. With fake voting, stolen elections.

  3. Parents should permanently “Opt-Out” by getting their children permanently out of these government indoctrination hell holes.

  4. I pretty much know that the federal government gives the state amount per head that’s in school!

    That’s why they give you shit when a kid misses school! unless Gud doctors note!

    You know your kids ! (Parents) the feds and schools really don’t! They just want our Gud taxes! Which runs feds snd state! Vicious circle

  5. A lot of money is raised through bake sales. I wasn’t quite clear but suspect a lot of the other sales that happen with the schools, involving candy or other snacks, would also be prohibited. Freedoms keep getting less and less with federal government involvement. The Federal Gov’t was not set up to continually decrease our freedoms. But everyone wants more money and so we give up our freedoms… sad state of affairs.

    • Actually we ALL don’t. However, people like Kelly Lessens do. She is up for re-election as we “speak”. Vote Anthony and Reis for the open board positions.

  6. What ever happened to a brown paper bag lunch? Seems the goobers have moved in a little too close to home. Give us a tax break and let parents be responsible.

      • Why do I need to pay endless amount of taxes, for the below par educated kids the ASD puts out? Why do we need to continually pay for schools to be torn down and replaced when there are schools down in the states that range from 60-100 years old that are still in service. Why do I need to pay for MOA and ASD Union deals that do not make their members pay for their golden parachute health care and publicly funded pensions, unlike the private sector.

  7. Not only are the schools filling the minds of our kids with “junk” science, it appears that now they also are filling their stomachs with junk food!

  8. So, 213 full time employees in our school district? And how many administrators in DC? Buy each kid a lunch box and have the parents fill them.

  9. The federal government has no way of knowing if a parent brings cupcakes to a classroom for a birthday or some other special event. With 20 years teaching experience in schools with an over 40% reduced or free lunch population I can attest that this is not at all tracked. This article makes it sound like all classrooms are monitored for what is brought into the classroom for parties. It is not. This is a good program that provides free food to kids that is for some the most reliable and substantive meal of their day. Have a heart and realize that feeding children in need is not federal tyranny or having some other nefarious intent!

    • Matt, I agree in concept providing a meal to children, is a good thing. It gives parents an option. If the program would stick to simply that, we would not be here. It is the extraneous rules that not only apply to those, who choose to participate in the program, but to the entire school community. Somehow the government feels entitled to curtail any item they deem “not healthy” and simply bringing cookies or other snacks for the classroom is now considered “an incursion”. I know of many teacher, who keep things like animal crackers and similar items in their classroom for little ones, who just need a mid afternoon snack to make it through the day. That would all go away. Since these are new rules, you really don’t know how strictly this will be monitored. Do not be surprised if your cafeteria manager will show up at the staff training in the fall and give you a long list of unacceptable foods.

  10. Don’t get your panties all in a twist! Cupcakes and such may be SOLD thirty minutes after school is out and weekends if school is not in session. No one is stopping the children from bringing cupcakes into the classroom for a birthday unless he is selling them.

    The standards apply during the school day anywhere on campus/grounds. A school day is defined as midnight to 30 minutes after the end of school day. Foods that do not meet Nutrition standards for foods may only be sold 30 minutes after end of school day, weekends, off campus, OR on approved exempted fundraising days.

    • Classroom “incursions” are limited by the federal government to a certain number per year. And what kids will remain after school for 30 minutes to buy a cupcake or other “nonnutritious food after school? No one. Why is a school day defined as between midnight and 30 minutes after the end of the school day? Why is it the school’s business to claim midnight till school day begins? Will the school district follow the very stringent rules of the federal government instead of losing its federal funding? That is the real issue.

      • Sir: The USDA made the decisions on a school day, imagine trying to make a time for every school in the nation when they all start at different times, and who is going to be out selling cupcakes in a school between midnight and the start of school. It make since to choose midnight with this in mind. What is the problem with not selling cupcakes until after school, I believe after school and weekends are the popular time for selling at sports events and such. No school is going to limit a student from bringing cupcake to class for a party and you know that, and the incursions as you call them are not in place for student parties in their classroom but again for events where they are selling the items.

        Do I like all these rules that Obama administration out into place (I do not) but as a employee I obey them. Why not pick on 100% whole grain for students, or the fact that they have to have a certain amount of the different colors of vegetables a week. Kids are sick of whole grain, but if we do not follow these regulations the USDA takes away the federal monies (millions to help cover the cost) and the commodities .

        I believe parents should make their students breakfast each money but you and I both know that they do not( maybe they are working) and I do not want to see any child hungry, it is not the child’s fault at all. You come a work in a school in school meals and tell me what you see.

        • Milo, I have been where you are. The most appalling issue with the Obama food rules are the “one size” serve this not that approach. We are doing students a great disservice with these rules, that severely limit portion size, taste and flavor. When the rules tell you what day to serve a “yellow vegetable” and what counts as such a vegetable, the school districts flexibility to shop economically with what is available at the time goes out the window. I have seen many a “healthy” lunch go from the service line directly into the trash and kids then go hungry. Sadly more funds does not mean more personnel at cafeterias to make more items from scratch and more flexibility with food purchased by the central kitchen. It means more bureaucrats sitting around developing, implementing and administering more rules and regulations.
          Since federal tax dollars are used to provide these meals, they are entitled to make the rules for that program. That being said, it is not acceptable for the lunch program to also claim jurisdiction over foods outside their sponsored program, which are provided solely by individual funds and sold or purchased by people not participating in the lunch program. In my opinion the state should opt-out of the federal school lunch program. This would allow local school districts more flexibility to serve foods available in the region and closer to student’s home meals.
          In the end this is not really about food. It is about some bureaucrats thousands of miles away telling you, what ANY and ALL individuals at your school may or may not eat, or buy with their own money and frankly that’s really none of their business.

  11. Oh goody! It’s the food police!
    Some years ago a liberal acquaintance opined that the federal government should require everyone to purchase a school lunch, “because parent just don’t know how to feed their kids properly”. She clearly NEVER had a school lunch!
    While I understand that spending tax dollars must provide a healthy and balanced meal, this is an over-reach outside the programs parameters of offering food to all, who wish to partake.
    It seems a sneaky way to eliminate the competition and force compliance to some DC bureaucrats idea of a “healthy” meal. Once this is established and followed, it is only a small step to then required that ALL meals consumed at school have to comply with their guidelines. So imagine your little one arrives at school and the teacher inspects his lunch to make sure it meets the requirements. If it does not he gets told, he will need to have a school lunch and you get a bill…. eliminating the competition indeed!
    Never underestimate omnipotent busybodies long term plans to manage your life.

  12. No americans since 1970s could see the communism distributed through such service. American sheep could only see the good deed program fulfilling hungry kids sent to school without food. Never could americans see it as communism like all government funded social programs.

  13. The state of Alaska has done several things that increase costs to their citizens in order to appease the tyrants in Washington, who ALWAYS have a string attached to every dollar the state gets in federal money. We had a chance to wean ourselves off that government tit after 1977 but greed took precedence and the state is the poorer for it.

  14. I remember an article that stated the school breakfasts were put in the lobby area for ALL kids to take because they didn’t want any child stigmatized by qualifying for the program. This was at East High for sure.
    I know parents that have plenty of money they just are too lazy to provide a breakfast and/or lunch for their kids because they know the school will do it for them. Whatever you subsidize you get more of.

  15. So what if cupcakes are not allowed in return for tens of millions of dollars??? Find something else to rant about.

    • Oh, if it were just cupcakes. A few pieces of silver (thirty trillion) to ignore the Constitution. Thanks, Judas.

      • Jay, this is what you get, when social studies are about gender, and history lessons are based on the 1619 project.
        Barry, with all due respect take a constitution course.

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