TOOELE — Gooey Rice Krispie treats, batches of fudge and homemade cookies is how Rebecca Ford, a teacher at Tooele High School, raises extra money for her class. But now she's worried the Hunger-Free Kids Act, a bill awaiting President Barack Obama's signature, will hurt her special education class' weekly bake sales.
The legislation, part of first lady Michelle Obama's campaign to stem childhood obesity, provides more meals at school for needy kids, including dinner, and directs the Agriculture Department to write guidelines to make those meals healthier. The legislation would apply to all foods sold in schools during regular class hours, including in the cafeteria line, vending machines and at fundraisers. It wouldn't apply to after-hours events or concession stands at sports events.
Ford is a special education teacher for severely disabled students who range in age from 14 to 22 years old. She came up with the idea of a weekly bake sale to raise money for field trips and after-school activities. But it has also brought side benefits to her students.
"It's been a blessing to my students; it's been able to teach them people skills, money skills, social skills and it's also helped them get out in the community more and be a part of this school more than just being in the classroom all day," Ford said.
The teens learn how to bake the goodies they make every week. They price them, package them and every Friday take the treats from classroom to classroom to sell.
The bake sales average about $100 a week.
"If they took away our bake sale," said Ford, "I don't know what we would do. We would have no money to do activities or anything."
Ford said changing the menu won't work.
"We've tried selling carrot sticks with ranch dip, or mixed nuts, something more healthy, but no one buys it," she admits.
The bake-sale money raised this month is going to a sub for Santa family the students are taking on. The proceeds will go toward buying and wrapping presents the students will deliver to a family of four.
Public health groups pushed for the language on fundraisers, which encourages the secretary of agriculture to allow them only if they are infrequent. The language is broad enough that a president's administration could even ban bake sales, but Secretary Tom Vilsack signaled in a letter to House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., this week that he does not intend to do that. The USDA has a year to write rules that decide how frequent is infrequent.
But Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says the bill is aimed at curbing daily or weekly bake sales, like those Ford's class puts on, or pizza fundraisers that become a regular part of kids' lunchtime routines. She says selling junk food can easily be substituted with nonfood fundraisers.
Other times during the year, the money is used for field trips and date nights for students who are of dating age but have never been on a date.
One Tooele High student said she and her classmates likely wouldn't pay too much attention to the new federal law.
"Most of my friends go out and get fast food, so it's not going to affect them in a lot of way," said Alexis Isabella. "Most kids, I think, if you take away the french fries and chicken nuggets, they will end up going out."
Contributing: The Associated Press