This is America in 2018 and we still don’t feed our public school students the way a rich country can and a loving country should.

Having been the parent of a kid who got the infamous cheese sandwich for an overdue lunch bill, I can empathize with Kimberly Aiken, a Florida mother whose 15-year-old daughter was refused a meal at school due for the same reason.

Aiken told reporters it went down like this:

“[my daughter] puts food on the tray, gets to the front, gives her number to the cashier, and she says, ‘Well, you owe 15 cents…My daughter said she didn’t have any money, so the cashier took her food.”

You read that right. A student didn’t have three nickels so her lunch went in the trash.

Something here is all wrong.

We would all like to think “we’re better than this.”

We’re not.

In a world where the average American wastes 400 pounds of food per year (and it costs well over $200 billion to dispose of that waste), how is it we can’t feed every child, every day?

In Volusia County Public Schools where Aiken’s daughter is a student, schools can set their own rules on how to handle students who come to eat without lunch money. According to the district website, it’s up to parents to “contact your child’s school for their policy.”

That’s terribly backward and prone to confusion.

I’m proud to say my state, Minnesota, addressed the issue in 2014 by legislating against “lunch shaming.” Not only were our legislators clear about ending stigmatization of hungry students, they also provided financial support to help districts address the growing number of student unable to pay for lunch.

Minnesota’s statute says: “The [school food authority] must also ensure that any reminders for payment of outstanding student meal balances do not demean or stigmatize any child participating in the school lunch program.”

State guidance on the matter said “no time should a meal policy target or shame students for financial considerations beyond their control. Districts should exhaust all options to ensure students are not denied a nutritious meal.”

That still leaves too much wiggle room for local bureaucracies to cut corners with bad food policy, but it was a step forward.

I feel like a crazy person writing this post because it’s insane that we would even have to ask: “who could possibly be against feeding children?”

Well, in theory no public person is outright against feeding kids. But some make smart plays to resist a universal solution. Conservative windmill Rick Hess wrote a piece in the National Review that makes a case for caution, and he warns of what happens when “education impresarios” dismiss unintended consequences of their feel-good laws like Minnesota’s attempt to outlaw lunch shaming.

His cautionary tale is of Denver Public Schools which saw its debt rise from $13,000 to $356,000 in one school year due to an increased number of families failing to pay for lunches. For Hess, that’s a predictable result. Tell people they can have something for free and even those that can afford to pay will be freeloaders.

It’s not a case without merit. In a large national study, 76 percent of school districts claimed to have debts resulting from feeding students who could not pay.

Yes, the money will have to come from somewhere, but unless I woke up in Medieval times feeding children isn’t an optional part of the American school day. There are there are 13 million, U.S. children facing hunger; the consequences leave them vulnerable to developmental impairments, social/emotional behavior issues, and being held back a grade in school.

We pay for that too. How many stories like Aiken’s do we need to hear before we realize episodice GoFundMe drives are no way to answer the problem of hungry students in our schools?

I can’t offer you a political or ideological basis for understanding this issue. All I have is a moral argument, and that one is simple: there’s enough food to feed the world.


This is old, but good….please watch….

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


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