Gov. Rod Blagojevich wants Illinois' elementary and middle school students to be healthier and to avoid junk food. And he's asked the State Board of Education to use its authority to ban the sale of soft drinks and unhealthy snacks in schools.
Great idea. But the governor would be better off preaching to parents, not to school districts, because prohibiting the sale of junk food in schools will have virtually no effect.
First, the ban is useless because the typical elementary or middle school student spends at most 1,232 hours a year in school. That's means that no more than 14 percent of a student's time is in a school building. The schools have nothing to say about what children do or don't eat for 86 percent of the year.
Second, you'd be hard-pressed to find a school district that gives elementary and middle school students access to vending machines during the school day. A state law already restricts the sale of candy, chips and carbonated beverages to elementary students to breakfast and lunch only, although most schools have much more restrictive policies.
In Champaign schools, for example, elementary students have no access to vending machines, and middle school students are given access only after school. Urbana schools have no junk food vending machines. It's virtually the same situation in Danville, although elementary students get homemade cookies once a week and homemade cake once or twice a month in their school lunches.
Third, the prohibition would have no effect on what children bring to school, either in their lunches or in their coat pockets. There will continue to be an active black market among enterprising school children to sell or trade the cookies or potato chips that were included in the lunches their parents packed.
Finally, if there's one thing parents and school boards cherish, it's local control of their schools. The state should stay away from dictating anything but the most important policies – school safety, teacher certification standards and such. Springfield needn't tell schools whether they should serve candy bars or granola bars. This is another Rod Blagojevich initiative with all the substance of a Twinkie.