School lunches – who will pay?

The prospect of school lunch officials pulling trays of food out of the hands of starving children and flinging their lunches in the trash is an appalling one. But in some districts in the state it could happen. Most others, however, provide some kind of free alternative lunch for students whose parents have let their lunch accounts fall into the red.

This week a study by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid drew attention in Minnesota to a story that grew out of such a tray-grabbing incident in Utah. About 46 of the state’s 300+ school districts refuse to feed students who can’t pay for their lunches. The prospect has Gov. Dayton vowing to propose legislation to make sure no student goes hungry. And legislators, who let similar legislation languish last year, are likely to pass it. Nobody wants to run for re-election when your opponent can characterize you as a Mr. Bumble who scolds young Oliver Twist for asking for more lunch.

But it costs money for the state to buy lunches for more kids. To provide free lunches to students who now pay the reduced-price cost of 40 cents a meal would cost the state $3.5 million. If families truly can’t afford 40 cents a day, or $2 a week, for school, then by all means, the state should help. But how many student lunch accounts slip into deficit because parents forget to give the kids their lunch money, or the kids lose it, or the parents think it’s not that much, we’ll pay it later?

At some point, with ample notice given, schools probably should cut off the hot lunch and provide a low-cost alternative to those who can pay but just don’t.

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