Minnesota, Connecticut Say All Kids Eat Free (At School, Anyway)
On Thursday, the Minnesota House voted 70-58 to pass a bill to provide universal school breakfast and lunch, joining several other states that have made the leap since the COVID-era federal school lunch waivers expired. Connecticut's Legislature also unanimously voted this week to extend their universal free lunch program until the end of the year. Turns out people really like universal school lunch!
Universal free meals mean that kids aren't slipping through the cracks if their parents lose a job or don't fill out the forms right or if they just forget their money that day. CBS reports that, according to Hunger Solutions Minnesota, one-in-four food insecure children doesn't actually qualify for federally subsidized meals. This is especially important right now when food is so expensive and it is entirely possible that many kids are not getting decent meals at home.
Studies have shown that universal free lunch improves school performance among not just poor students but also among those who are able to pay for their own lunches. Among the many things Whitney Houston was not wrong about is the fact that the children are our future. We need them to do well in school so that they can grow up and do things that benefit our society. This an investment, and a worthwhile one at that.
Alas, not everyone was happy about it.
“Why are we feeding kids in Edina or rich areas that do not need this extra funding? We are pushing tax dollars where they are not needed,” Rep. Pam Altendorf (R-Red Wing) said to the Pioneer Press.
Well, Pam. I will tell you why.
Because in this country, when something is "just for poor people" it becomes heavily stigmatized. It becomes something people (kids especially) get made fun of for. It becomes something they are made to feel ashamed about, frequently by Republican politicians of the sort who fantasize about making children work as janitors to pay for their daily bread. Or daily tater tots, as the case may be. It becomes something that can be easily taken away, it can be easily be defunded so that the lunches those kids get are lower in quality than the lunches the other kids are getting.
When kids who are more well off are getting the same thing, they're not going to be giving them cheese sandwiches every day. I don't know if that's the case now, but when I was a kid, the kids who got free lunch literally got cold cheese on a hamburger bun and a milk. It was absolutely enraging. And cruel. I don't think it's good for kids to be inured to that kind of cruelty, to have to sit there while absolutely no one acknowledges what a horrible thing that is to do to children.
To boot, means-testing is rarely so much about saving money as it is about people wanting poor people to "build character." In fact, it frequently costs more money to means-test programs than it would to make them universal.
“We give every kid in our school a desk. There are lots of kids out there that can afford to buy a desk, but they get a desk because they go to school,” Rep. Sydney Jordan, DFL-Minneapolis, who is definitely my new favorite, told the Pioneer Press. Practically everything in public schools is for all kids. There are not many things that are just for the kids who have the money to afford them — maybe field trips, maybe some school dances or whatever. It is considered a given that in order to learn, kids need desks and chairs and textbooks and other things. They also need to eat and that should be considered a given as well.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse