SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO) is calling on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to sign legislation would increase equity for low-income and minority students by expanding access to higher quality school meals across the state. Passed with overwhelming support in the House and Senate, HB 4813 would ensure that all students receive the nutrition needed to learn and thrive regardless of their racial or economic background.
Under current law, school districts enrolled in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) are required to consider only the lowest-priced meals when contracting with food service providers. This lowest-cost restraint makes for an extremely challenging and burdensome procurement process where food quality and taste are essentially non-factors. School districts that do not participate in the NSLP face no such restrictions, and therefore can purchase higher-quality food.
This inequity largely impacts lower-income and minority communities across the state, and places children enrolled at schools participating in the NSLP at a significant disadvantage compared to their peers at wealthier schools.
Sponsored by State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria) and State Sen. Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago), HB 4813 would allow Illinois school districts to grade potential food service vendors with a matrix to better evaluate contractors and provide for meaningful participation of students and staff in the evaluation process. Districts would have the flexibility to account for food quality and taste, along with other variables including vendor references, history, and innovation, without the risk of awarding contracts that contain overly inflated costs or encourage a continued race to the bottom.
“All students deserve access to high quality food at school, regardless of their zip code. This legislation will give school districts the flexibility they need to provide the best food possible rather than being forced to go with the lowest bidder, and we thank Rep. Gordon-Booth and Sen. Villivalam for their leadership and understanding that children’s ability to learn and thrive at school requires having good nutrition,” said Todd Drafall, assistant superintendent for business at Downers Grove School District 58 and a member of the Board of Directors of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials. “We applaud lawmakers for their bipartisan support and encourage Gov. Pritzker to sign this legislation to bring parity and equality to lunchrooms across the state.”
School districts across the state have pointed to current cost limitations as the main reason for low food quality and low consumption rates by students. Data suggests that students who do not eat a full lunch or breakfast are less prepared to succeed in the classroom. Adequate nutrition has been linked to students performing better in math, reading, attendance and test taking. Providing better meal options would increase consumption rates by students and improve academic performance.
In addition to the Illinois Association of School Business Officials, the legislation is supported by a broad coalition including: Chicago Food Policy Action Council, Chicago Public Schools, ED-RED, Greater Chicago Food Depository, Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois Heart Association, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Principals Association, Indian Prairie School District #240, Large Unit District Association, NAACP, Peoria Public Schools, Woodridge School District, West Aurora School District, Joliet 86 School District, LEND and the FIP Action Fund.
About The Illinois Association of School Business Officials
The Illinois Association of School Business Officials is devoted to the school business management profession. Our mission is to provide our members and stakeholders with a comprehensive range of professional development activities, services and advocacy through networking and participation.