Rokita breaks for lunch at CMS

Sunday, April 19, 2015
Researching one of the issues facing is education subcommittee, Congressman Todd Rokita takes his lunch Friday in the Cloverdale Middle School cafeteria. (Photo by JARED JERNAGAN)

CLOVERDALE -- No successful politician is a stranger to stops and chicken barbecues and greasy spoons along the campaign trail.

In his time as Indiana secretary of state and U.S. representative, Todd Rokita has been a guest of a handful of Putnam County restaurants as well as breaking bread with the Greencastle Rotary Club, the Defenders of Liberty and at Lincoln Day dinner.

On Friday, Rokita took a different approach to the local culinary experience, lunching with students in the cafeteria at Cloverdale Middle School.

It wasn't a hankering for tater tots or sloppy joes that drew Rokita to the CMS lunchroom.

As the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, the congressman was doing research on the effects of federal nutritional guidelines on school lunches.

"I just want an honest assessment of what's working and what's not," Rokita said.

The Brownsburg Republican said he liked what he saw ญญ-- and tasted -- in Cloverdale, but that shifting standards could change that.

"I had a good lunch today but it probably had too much salt in it per the regulations, but at least it tasted OK," Rokita said. "I've stuck my head in a lot of school cafeteria garbage cans around Indiana and the nation lately and I'm seeing a lot of food being thrown away."

The wasted food, Cloverdale Community Schools Food Service Director Billy Boyette said, includes many of the fruits and vegetables prescribed by federal guidelines.

Boyette told Rokita that more than a third of the food is being thrown into the trash by students.

"So basically it's the stupidity of these regulations," Rokita interjected.

"I'm glad you said that," Boyette replied with a smile.

Boyette's words were still on Rokita's mind talking about the regulations later in the afternoon.

"In the middle school we heard that 37 percent of the food is being thrown in the garbage because the regulations are causing these lunch personnel to have to make meals that kids won't eat," Rokita said. "So what good are we doing for kids if they aren't eating the food? And what are we teaching about waste and wasting food if we can't even make them something that's appealing."

It's a tough question Rokita hopes his fellow congressmen will deal with regarding the side effects of federal regulations, no matter how well-intentioned.

The congressman's words echoed comments he made in a subcommittee meeting on Capitol Hill earlier in the week.

"I have visited several schools myself and have heard from students, food service directors, and administrators on the need for fewer regulations," Rokita told his fellow subcommittee members. "One-size-fits-all federal rules and mandates for school lunches are a recipe for disaster."

While lunches are the current focus of Rokita's educational efforts, they are part of a larger effort he would like to see to decentralize education regulations.

"I'm on a crusade, as many of us are in Congress, to repeal No Child Left Behind," Rokita told the Banner Graphic. "We think accountability is a good thing, but we think the state is best positioned to determine, along with superintendents and principals, what kids need in terms of testing and how much and what kind."

Rokita has proposed an alternative.

"My Student Success Act basically guts No Child Left Behind, swings the pendulum back in favor of local taxpayers, parents and teachers so that they can test and educate our kids the way that they see fit without interference from the federal government," he continued, adding that federal civil rights regulations of No Child Left Behind would remain in place.

Rokita said another educational focus will be student data privacy. With more education occurring online, he expressed a commitment to protecting students' information and identities while they are online for school purposes.

In the end, Rokita said his hope is to put education decision making into the hands of the people who actually know the students' names.

"Your teacher, your parents and your school board members know more about what's good for you than some bureaucrat in Washington, D.C.," Rokita told a group of high school students. "Those people don't even know your name.

"We more and more think that this one-size-fits-all approach in Washington isn't a

good idea."

Editor's note:

The caption accompanying the Saturday, April 18 story on Rokita's visit to Cloverdale contained inaccurate information. In the photograph, Rokita was shaking the hand of Jacob Nguyen.

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