With the state of the world lately, hardy anything I read surprises me. Still, this particular piece from the Washington Post left me absolutely floored.
The Waukesha School District – located in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin — has opted out of the federal program offering universal free school meals.
Why? Because some families might “become spoiled”
When I read that, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor from disbelief… rage… disgust… all of the above.
Surely no one actually said that.
And if they did, it absolutely must’ve been taken out of context.
Nope. I dug around and found the original quote. During one of the Waukesha School Board meetings, Board Member Karin Rajnicek said,
“I feel like this is a big problem, and it’s really easy to get sucked into this and become spoiled and think, ‘It’s not my problem anymore—it’s everyone else’s problem to feed my children.’”
Ummm, WHAT? Spoiled?
Yes, I suppose it is spoiled for children to expect regular meals. Greedy little monsters!
Gosh, next these kids will want basic health care and education! Where does it end?!
Listen up, Karin: As a teacher and mother of four, I’ve seen my fair share of spoiled.
Spoiled is a teen carelessly losing their iPhone 11 and Mom and Dad buying them an iPhone 12.
Spoiled is a child refusing to do chores their parents have assigned them–and getting away with it.
Spoiled is a kid throwing a fit because they want a toy and the adult giving them said toy.
Feeding hungry kids a meal at school is so far from spoiled, it isn’t even funny.
I guarantee there are no good parents out there who believe it’s someone else’s responsibility to feed their kids.
There are, however, plenty of good parents who’ve fallen on hard times because of a global pandemic.
A family may have been financially secure before, but have now lost their jobs or seen their incomes slashed.
Or maybe a family is back to making an income now, but were previously forced to close their business for the better part of a year and are struggling to get back on their feet.
Or maybe a family was financially stable with two parents working. Then, one parent had to cut back or quit because schools and daycares around the country closed for months with zero notice.
These are just a few of the reasons the National School Lunch Program has been expanded to all students, via federal funding, through June 2022.
But what about personal responsibility?
That same board member, Karin Fajnicek, said,
“I had three kids. I had them and so I’m going to feed them. I feel like that’s the responsibility of the adult.”
Well, how nice for you Karin!
(Am I the only one laughing-but-not-laughing at the irony of her name… I wonder if there’s any chance she pronounces it “Karen”…)
Surely without meaning to, she hit the nail on the head: The responsibility OF. THE. ADULT.
Would we seriously punish a kid because their parent (whether through actual neglect or just unfortunate circumstances) failed to meet their personal obligations?
Please tell me: what is the “personal responsibility” of a kindergarten student?
Okay, but what about the families who don’t need it?
Well, first of all, a lot more families “need it” than have been receiving it.
Under the average year’s free and reduced lunch program, Feeding America calculates that one in five food-insecure children lives in a home ineligible for free or reduced lunch.
The national school meal debt is $262 million PER YEAR.
And that was before a global pandemic upended lives and budgets for families everywhere.
If school lunches are free to everyone, yes, some families will get free meals for their kids that they can afford to pay for.
But if the alternative is that some kids are forced to go hungry, or live in fear of being hungry in the future?
Sorry, that’s just unacceptable in a civilized society.
I get it. Making school lunch free to students isn’t actually free. Someone’s tax dollars have to fund this program.
If you want to come at me with arguments about fiscal responsibility and financial stewardship, I’m all in! But according to the Food Research And Action Center,
“Research shows that receiving free or reduced-price school lunches reduces food insecurity, obesity rates, and poor health. In addition, the new school meal nutrition standards are having a positive impact on student food selection and consumption, especially for fruits and vegetables.”
That’s an investment that makes sense. Children who have access to nutritious food will perform better in school. They’ll have better health outcomes.
And that’s an investment of our tax dollars that will actually pay off in the future (as opposed to, say… the $2.5 million the federal government spent on a 2010 Super Bowl ad for the census).
There are countless federal programs I wish my taxes didn’t support. But using my tax dollars to ensure every child in America has access to a meal at school?
Take my money!
What can you do about this?
Well, I can’t be certain. Clearly common sense and logic isn’t at play here. Compassion is also definitely out.
Shame, if some of these Board members are even capable of feeling it, is probably the only way to go.
After intense pressure from the community, the Waukesha School Board has set a special meeting to discuss the issue next week. I encourage you to do all you can to shame them into changing their decision.
Write them, email them, tweet them, tag them—whatever it takes. And sign this petition put together by the Alliance for Education in Waukesha