Recently, the Waukesha, Wisconsin school board rejected continued participation in the pandemic-created federal program under which all school children are eligible to receive a free lunch regardless of their family’s wealth or income.
The reason the school board offered is that they didn’t want families to get spoiled. Mm-hmm, hold that thought.
In the ensuing uproar, what got lost in the noise and confusion is that Waukesha did not end all federally-funded school lunch programs, but that they returned to the pre-pandemic program of providing a free or reduced price lunch only to families who qualified because of low income. To access the benefits, the families have to apply as they did previously and be approved for the program.
Once we stop throwing pejoratives like ‘free-loader’ and ‘socialist’ at one another, maybe we can take counsel together about what we have turned our schools into and what we want them to be.
Like it or not, our schools have become the safety net, not of last resort, but of the only resort. Schools are expected to provide full services for children, including counseling, health-screening, trauma treatment, mentoring, health treatment, menstrual products for girls, and even laundry.
Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) supposes that doing laundry for parents may be spoiling the family, but it has been shown to reduce truancy. A lot of kids don’t show up because they are too embarrassed to be with their peers in dirty or smelly clothing.
That gets to the heart of the issue. There are intellectual arguments to be made and debates to be had about the nature of liberty and personal responsibility. But America historically has been a pragmatic country; it throws aside the ivory tower debates to determine what end must result. Do we want children adequately fed, clothed, and housed or not–regardless of their parents’ income or wealth?
If you believe that children should go hungry, dirty, smell, and be ill because their parents did not provide for their basic needs, GOT doesn’t know how to convince you that you’re wrong. Don’t hide behind your religion, either. Hear the words of the Gospel: “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and you did not look after me … whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
A great society (GOT is using those words deliberately) cares for the least of their members. If the wealthy shirk their responsibility to provide a lunch for their children that they can afford, the solution is not to make their children go hungry.
Schools should provide meals for all children. The wealthy, those with high incomes, can do their part by paying more taxes to support schools.
Postscript: As an added bonus, the pandemic-brought federal funding of a free lunch for any child who needs or wants one has brought the end of lunch-shaming. Isn’t that a good thing?