Vending machines help fund county schools

By Julie Fann
star staff

Concern over the health of the state's youth has caused two lawmakers to propose a bill that would remove vending machines from public schools. However, with chronic budget woes spanning several years, can the Carter County School System afford to lose yet another source of funding?
   "Vending machines provide a substantial amount of money to the schools, and if we lost that money, it would affect our budget a great deal," said Superintendent Dallas Williams. The system draws approximately $100,000 every year from vending machines, Williams said.
   Though the health of the county's students always trumps budget worries, Williams is ambivalent about the benefit of removing a substantial source of funding when, for the past three years, the system has been forced to cut spending on critical items like transportation.
   "When you look at the budget concerns that have come our way over the last three years, any time we're looking at losing money in the school system it is a concern. However, we do understand why lawmakers would be concerned about the health of the students," Williams said.
   Sen. Tim Burchett and Rep. Bill Dunn, both Knoxville Republicans, filed a bill for introduction Jan. 29 to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 23, relative to the vending machines. The bill states:
   "The General Assembly recognizes that obesity rates among children in the state of Tennessee continues to steadily increase, and that the occurrences of obesity in children is directly related to the amount and types of foods children eat.
   "Obesity is linked to a larger increase of chronic health conditions and accounts for a significantly higher amount of health expenditures than those associated with smoking, heavy drinking, or poverty. Each additional daily serving of sugar-sweetened soda increases a child's risk for obesity by 60 percent."
   The bill says that no elementary, middle, or high school in the state shall sell or offer to sell foods in vending machines. Schools will only provide foods to children in schools through the school cafeteria, and may provide foods for sale outside of the cafeteria so long as the food is not offered through a vending machine.
   If the law passes, it will take effect July 1, 2004.