Michigan House Bill 4306 addresses school contracts for food service, custodial and transportation services. The bill aims to mandate schools to participate in competitive bidding for the provision of these services. This means all schools that have successful food service operations without corporate control will be forced into privatization. What are the basic arguments for and against this bill and what does it mean for farm to school initiatives?
For the Bill
According to a survey conducted by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in 2010, about 49% of schools contracted out one or more of the services listed above. Only 31.2% contracted out for food services. According to reports of committee testimony, school districts report cost savings when contracted out. Supposedly, this bill offers Michigan schools a much needed break with the current economic disarray. Groups listed who support the bill include The National Federation of Independent Business and the Michigan Association of School Boards.
Against the Bill
Many who argue against the bill maintain that Lansing officials have no right deciding how all schools should be run. All schools are run differently, and rightly so. Opponents of the bill feel this bill does not take in consideration each individual schools ability to profit and problem solve within it’s community. Not only will this bill deny schools freedom, it denies local workers employment. When schools are able to run their own food service, custodial and transportation services, moms, grandfathers and neighbors are hired. Privatization will make this difficult. Those listed who oppose this bill include the Michigan Education Association and the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy.
So what does this mean for farm-to-school? Well, it seems if bids are to be mandated, farm-to-school could get put on hold. Many organizations like Sodexo, Aramark and Chartwells do not provide wiggle room for fresh local food. Certain distribution centers, manufacturers, and brands must be used. If local farmers wanted to provide schools with their food, they would need to get approved by the private company first.
My experience with farm-to-school has been ever so positive and it would positively break my heart to see something like this ruin all initiatives. Each school should be looked at individually. Different food service systems work differently depending on the environment. I had the opportunity to shadow a food service director for five weeks. She ran the food service department independently and even made a profit for the school. She was not big on farm-to-school, but regardless, this bill would ruin her profitable program.
What are your thoughts on this situation, and do you see any hope if it gets passed?
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