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Associations Help School Boards Beat the Bake Sale Blues

With federal rules pitting school fundraising needs against healthier nutrition standards, some states are allowing exemptions for bake sales and other food-focused fundraising efforts. But associations in the sector emphasize that there's more than one way to raise funds for schools.

If the term “school fundraiser” has you thinking of cookies and cake, you might want to reset your expectations.

“Smart Snacks in School,” a federal nutrition regulation implemented recently under the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that went into effect last year, is meant to tamp down the number of unhealthy but tasty options being peddled at schools, and—bad news for the cheerleading squad—that includes bake sales.

A number of states have even pushed back against the rules, with 22 of them asking for exemptions from the U.S. Agriculture Department’s nutrition rules on fundraising, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). (The rules have also sparked debate over what goes on a child’s school lunch plate, as well as what goes into school vending machines.)

In some states that debated whether to request exemptions last summer, the issue got heated. In front of the Georgia Board of Education, for example, a local American Heart Association representative argued that allowing exemptions for bake sales “puts revenues over children’s health.” Ultimately, the board decided to give Georgia schools up to 30 exemptions during the school year to hold such fundraisers.

Other states, like Oklahoma and South Carolina, have similarly allowed for broader exemptions, and according to the Associated Press, upon hearing that schools aren’t permitted to sell snow cones, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas said the state will move to push for such exemptions.

“The thought that a federal bureaucrat knows better than parents what they can feed their own families is condescending and reprehensible,” Douglas told the wire service.

Associations Speak Up

The federal rules do allow for some wiggle room: States can request an “infrequent” number of exemptions to allow for bake sales. But in comments to the Associated Press, NASBE Executive Director Kristen Amundson emphasized that the organization is advising its members to seriously consider whether they need exemptions at all.

“Do you really want a bake sale every day, 180 days a year?” Amundson pondered. “Maybe, but probably not.”

Meanwhile, the Association of Fund-Raising Distributors & Suppliers (AFRDS) claims that the controversy around bake sales is a little overblown. In a news release on its website, the association says the regulations are meant to be set at the state level—and furthermore, the intention behind them is not to rain on fundraisers’ parades but to keep students healthy.

And—oh, yeah—it’s important to note that “fundraising” isn’t just limited to food. In fact, the association notes that nonprofits raise as much as $1.7 billion through product fundraising each year.

“According to USDA research, prior to Smart Snacks, more than half of all schools did not hold fundraisers that sold sweet or salty foods,” the association states [PDF]. “It is not surprising that many schools and states have now opted to continue those policies. That is their choice and a local decision.”

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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