Forty kids at Uintah Elementary in Utah had their lunches ripped from their hands and thrown into the trash because their parents had owed money on their lunch accounts.
The Salt Lake City school district apologized for taking away the children’s lunches but their ideas about how to fix the issue revolve around notifying parents and preventing the lunches from getting into the hands of the hungry kids in the first place. It’s a sad testimony to our educational system that the solution to this problem isn’t providing free lunches for all.
Only 11% of the children in the Salt Lake City school district qualify for a free lunch but what does that really mean in the real world? In order to qualify for a free lunch, a family would have to make 130% of the federal poverty level (FPL) and 185% of the FPL for reduced-priced lunches. That means a family of four could only make $43,000 per year before taxes to qualify. A family with two kids in the Salt Lake City school district could possibly pay $80 per month for lunch for two children, which may be a lot for a family with a tight budget.
There is another way
- School lunch is federally subsidized, and in Utah, lunches are further underwritten by liquor sales tax revenue. “But even with this money, food and labor is very expensive. Students still need to pay their lunch bill,” said Cruz.
The attitude that our children are not deserving of a free lunch is distinctly American. Our education system is rooted in inequality so it’s surprising that that inequality would also apply to school lunches. It doesn’t have to be that way.
For example, Finland provides a free lunch to all of its children. Finland went from being a country with under-performing schools to having one of the best school systems in the world. Finland’s schools improved, however, after a series of national reforms. One of the changes the Finns made to their educational system was to provide every child regardless of ability to pay. They knew something that the officials in Salt Lake City need to learn — our children learn best when they are not hungry and stressed.
Maybe I’m being pessimistic but I don’t see our country making a sweeping change and providing free lunch to all our kids. The underlying reason is probably because it’s mostly black and Hispanic kids who benefit from the program (although it wasn’t the case in Utah) and “entitlements”, even if it’s for kids, have a bad rap in our culture. So tomorrow, a child somewhere in America will have his lunch, perhaps his first meal of the day, snatched out of his hand and educators will wonder why we lag behind other First World countries.
Question: Do you think school lunches should be free or does the current system seem fair?