Arizona soda distributors have agreed to guidelines limiting what they sell at public schools in hope of forestalling even more stringent state regulations.
Those guidelines — purely voluntary — would keep everything but bottled water and 100 percent fruit juices out of elementary schools. That complies with requirements being crafted by the state Department of Education.
But the Arizona Beverage Association wants to be able to sell "nutritious or lowercalorie beverages’’ to middle and junior high school students.
John Kalil, president of the organization and vice presi- dent and general manager of family-owned Kalil Bottling Co., said Tuesday that would include sports drinks which contain sugar but also have extra vitamins or minerals, as well as diet sodas. Both are offlimits under the proposed state standards.
And the organization wants to continue selling sugared sodas to high schoolers by promising to also make healthier alternatives available in vending machines.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who pushed for the authority to enact restrictions, said there may be room for a compromise from more stringent regulations proposed in August.
For example, Horne said he might consider the sale of sports drinks to students in middle and junior high schools, but only if they have limited amounts of added sugar.
But Horne said sodas are not negotiable because the legislation directing his agency to adopt standards specifically bars the sale of anything forbidden by federal school lunch regulations, a list that includes carbonated beverages. High schools are not included in that legislation.
Horne said he is willing to discuss the sale of at least diet sodas to high schoolers.
There’s a practical reason for that: Lawmakers refused earlier this year to let him restrict high school sales amid complaints from vending companies and school groups that raise money from machines and snack bars. Horne said if he can reach a deal now with the beverage industry it could avoid a fight next session — a fight he could lose again.
The beverage restrictions are part of a larger effort ordered by the Legislature to fight juvenile obesity by banning the sale of junk food in public schools.
Draft guidelines unveiled in August would limit sales based on fat, sugar and caloric content. That would make it illegal for schools to sell most snack cakes, cookies and crackers, as well as sports drinks and other beverages with added sugar.
Kalil said it’s not fair to have the same standards for all students regardless of age.
He particularly wants to keep legislators from letting Horne kick profitable soda machines off high school campuses.
"We’re talking about kids that are old enough to drive,’’ he said. "But we’re telling them what they can drink.’’
The beverage association guidelines would keep sugared sodas available. But vendors would have to devote half of the space in machines to healthier alternatives, such as diet sodas and sports drinks.
Public comment on the proposed guidelines is being accepted through Oct. 25.
Horne said the comments will be reviewed by officials from his department as well as school and vending company representatives, with the goal of adopting a final plan this spring — and implementing the limits next school year.