Healthy Schools Act

Back in early May 2010, the DC Healthy Schools Act, introduced by Councilmember Mary Cheh and Council Chairman (now soon to be Mayor) Vincent Gray, was unanimously passed by the DC City Council.  Among its many measures, the Act improves the quality of school meals, establishes a school garden program, establishes a farm-to-school program, requires all schools to provide free breakfast, sets nutritional standards for school meals and increases funding for school gardens.

Unfortunately, the Healthy Schools Act was passed without stipulating a funding mechanism.  Mary Cheh, however, devised a plan for a penny-per-ounce excise tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages in DC.  This provoked the beverage industry into launching an expensive lobbying effort to squash Cheh’s plan.

Facing a lack of funding for the Act, several organizations (with Earth Day Network as the leader) organized a community reaction in favor of the “soda tax”. With media attention, lobbying efforts and a petition signed by over 6,000 DC residents, the Support Healthy Schools Coalition was able to convince the City Council on May 21st to vote in support of a 6% sales tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (as opposed to an excise tax). The Act was fully funded and took effect on August 23, 2010.

Two days before Thanksgiving, outgoing Mayor Adrian Fenty submitted his Budgetary Gap Closing Plan, which eliminates funding for the Healthy Schools Act. Hearings were held on the Fenty’s proposal on November 30, 2010 and the City Council will vote Dec. 7 on the budget. Earth Day Network continues to work to see the DC Healthy Schools Act passed with full funding.