LEAs can consider more than price in food service contracts

LEAs can consider more than price in food service contracts

(Calif.) New legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown will allow school cafeterias to donate leftover food to charity, resolve conflicts with federal law over food service contracts, and qualify nearly 400,000 more K-12 students for free and reduced-price meals.

The measures are among a handful of bills that the governor backed that will take effect on January 1, bringing improvements to students’ access to healthy foods and the efficiency that schools manage nutrition programs.

Perhaps most important is AB 1502 from Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, which will add a second state agency—the California Department of Education—to the list able to determine student eligibility for the National School Lunch Program.

Under federal law, local educational agencies are required to directly certify those students who come from families with income levels that make them eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

But current state law provides that only the Department of Health Care Services is authorized to conduct a secondary review of the lunch program list. As a result, some 395,000 K-12 students could be missing out on the program benefits. By adding CDE to the qualification process, the state will increase capacity and better identify eligible students.

SB 557 by state Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, is aimed at reducing food insecurity among California school children.

The bill requires the CDE to update its guidance on the donation of leftover food from school cafeterias to local food banks or other nonprofits. It also provides that schools can establish sharing tables where staff and pupils can offer food items either to other students or to local charities.

The bill comes in response to disclosure earlier this year that the Los Angeles School District routinely throws out about $100,000 in meals per day. According to a state task force, there are about 2.3 million children statewide that suffer from food insecurity.

SB 544, by state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, resolves a discrepancy between state and federal law as it relates to school nutritional contracts.

Under existing federal law, government agencies receiving federal funds can contract only with “responsible” entities that have the ability to perform with price being just one component of consideration. Existing state law requires governing boards of school districts to make price the primary issue for services that cost more than $50,000.

According to the author’s office, existing interpretation of both federal and state law can result in a school district being prevented from choosing a vendor that may have a higher bid but can provide food that is locally sourced or of better quality.

McGuire’s bill would bring California law more in accord with federal requirements so that other factors besides price can be considered.