It’s time to celebrate a good idea whose time has finally come, or may be just around the corner – free breakfasts/lunches for all school students.
The Minnesota House Democrats recently approved in a party-line vote House File 5. The Senate will likely go along. It would allow paid-for lunches to all students, regardless of family income.
Yes, it’s expensive, an estimated $190 million per year. However, it’s worth it, and here are just four reasons why:
One: There are few things more heartbreaking than “lunch shaming.” Videos from some schools in the nation have shown some students in the lunch line putting food on their trays. At the cash register, the cafeteria worker notes a particular student has no funds on account to pay for the lunch. The employee then snatches away the tray of food and hands the student a bagged lunch. The poor student, not only hungry but humiliated, sits there nibbling a cheese sandwich, feeling the sharp sting of shame.
Two: Families are having such a painfully difficult time trying to stretch their limited incomes for constantly increasing costs of rent or house payments, gasoline, home heating, groceries, health-care and other vital survival needs. In all too many tragic cases, those families become homeless, including right here in Minnesota school districts. One sad statistic is there were six million family visits to Minnesota food shelves in 2002, up by 2 million from the year before. Too many families are hounded by insecurities and unbearable anxieties caused by incomes that just do not cover the minimal survival essentials.
Three: Some students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches do without for fear of being stigmatized as low-income charity cases.
Four: School districts provide free bus transportation to students. Making sure every student gets a free lunch and/or breakfast is another assurance all will receive adequate energy and nutrition for the learning process. When a student’s stomach aches from hunger, it is next-to-impossible to learn anything.
There might be some kinks to be worked out in the Senate regarding this important bill, but at this point its passage looks hopeful.
Those who oppose the free-lunch-for-all proposal argue it’s not the responsibility of government to pay for anything that people (in this case, parents/guardians) can afford to pay for. Well, true to a point and in fact some parents – some! – can be irresponsible or reckless in managing their incomes. However, there are far more pluses than negatives in the proposal. One big plus is a lot of form-filling and other paperwork can be done away with.
In a Colorado voting initiative, nearly 60 percent approved a free-lunch-for-all program. Eighteen other states are considering similar proposals.
Let’s hope Minnesota adopts it. And let’s hope that state residents (most anyway) applaud this enlightened idea whose time has finally come.