Following a recommendation from Rep. Kristi Noem and Sen. John Thune, Mitchell School Board member Neil Putnam met with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue this week to discuss opportunities for local school boards to collaborate on school meal improvements.

“Representative Noem and Senator Thune understand just how crucial school meals are – for both the physical and academic wellbeing of our kids,” said Putnam. “It was an honor to represent South Dakota before Secretary Perdue this week and advocate for legislation that eliminates unnecessary mandates and regulations and gives local school boards the chance to preserve more resources for the classroom. We all want successful students, and by improving school meals, we’re paving the way for a happier and healthier future for our kids.”  

“I firmly believe those closest to our kids make the best decisions for our kids, so it’s good to see USDA engaging on-the-ground leaders like Neil Putnam,” said Noem. “Neil is a passionate advocate on the issue of school nutrition, and I’m confident his testimony will have an incredible impact on our country’s school nutrition program and, as a result, the academic and extracurricular performance of our kids.”

“Local leaders know their communities better than anyone else, so I’m glad Neil Putnam’s voice was heard and South Dakota had a seat at the table at USDA with Secretary Perdue,” said Thune. “The Mitchell community should be proud of Mr. Putnam’s effort to ensure the school lunch programs are effective for students and their communities.”

Noem and Thune have helped lead congressional efforts to grant greater flexibility on school meal programs. Earlier this Congress, Noem introduced legislation that transforms all of the USDA’s school lunch, breakfast and a la carte requirements into voluntary nutritional guidelines, giving states and local schools much-needed breathing room. Thune, meanwhile, backed a bill to improve child nutrition standards while increasing flexibility for South Dakota schools.

According to USDA estimates, school food requirements cost local school districts and states $1.22 billion in FY2015.  Meanwhile, a 2015 GAO report showed a continued decline in school meal program participation since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act took effect in 2010.  More specifically, National School Lunch Program participation declined by 1.4 million children – or 4.5 percent – between the 2010-11 school year and the 2013-14 school year.  The non-partisan agency also reported that “new federal nutrition requirements contributed to the decrease.” Prior to the 2010-11 school year, participation in the program had been increasing steadily for many years.

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