- Associated Press - Friday, July 18, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia officials who call new federal nutrition standards an over-reach want to give schools plenty of loopholes to sell sweet treats during fundraisers.

The state’s Board of Education has proposed up to 30 exemption days per school every year. School officials can allow fundraisers to sell food no longer allowed in schools under a federal law passed in 2010 that is part of first lady Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood obesity effort.

The proposal is up for public comment for 30 days, and will be considered by the board in August.

Georgia school officials said they support providing healthier food options for kids, and understand that fundraisers are part of setting that example. But they’re concerned that changes to traditional sales of candy bars, fast food items or doughnuts will cut money used to support student clubs, sports and other programs.

Jason Miller, principal of Twin Oaks Elementary School in Leesburg, Georgia, said he’s committed to improving kids’ health. But candy bar sales and other campaigns have raised as much as $10,000 in some years, money the school has used to help clubs travel to events or bring in speakers, Miller said.

The school is working with fundraising contractors to find alternatives, from hats or T-shirts to decidedly practical items like bed sheets. Miller admits that could take some salesmanship.

“If a young child asks you to buy some candy bars, most people say yes,” he said, laughing. “It might be different for trash bags.”

Meeting federal food standards is nothing new for schools across the country, and the fundraiser requirements are the latest portion of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 to be phased in. The law required more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and limited foods with too much sugar, fat and salt in school meals and in vending machines or cafes available to students during school.

Congressional Republicans and some advocacy groups have turned against those meal standards in recent weeks, arguing that schools are losing money because students won’t buy the new items. Georgia Superintendent John Barge and State Board of Education Chair Helen Rice said in a statement that the fundraising rules are “an absolute overreach.”

Some Georgia schools already have begun planning for the changes.

Kevin Dowling, principal of Lee County High School in Leesburg, Georgia, said the local school board last year asked officials to move away from high-sugar or high-fat items for fundraisers. Krispy Kreme doughnut coupons by clubs and cookie sales by the math department were eliminated, in favor of fruit and peanuts despite some grumbling.

“There was some discomfort because our bigger fundraisers didn’t meet those guidelines,” Dowling said. “But these are our guidelines, and we’ll adjust.”

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