About Those School Lunches…

If only issues were as simple and uncomplicated as people think they are…

Indiana Representative Todd Rokita has proposed to ban the practice of providing free lunches to all students in schools where over 40% of the students are eligible for such lunches. He wants to limit the program so that only the students who qualify eat free.

Sounds reasonable enough; as Indianapolis Star editor Tim Swarins recently framed the issue in an editorial defending Rokita’s proposal, why should we spend tax dollars to feed children who (presumably) can afford to pay for their lunches?

Well, there are several reasons, actually, and the one that should be most compelling to Mssrs. Rokita and Swarins (had they bothered to investigate) is financial.

It turns out that the cost of managing the paperwork and processes required to verify who is and who is not eligible for the free lunch is not inconsiderable. In fact, I’m told that the time and effort previously spent determining and confirming continued eligibility often exceeded the cost of simply providing meals for all the children in schools where there are high percentages of impoverished youngsters. (In case you haven’t been in a school cafeteria recently, they aren’t getting filet mignon.)

There are also humanitarian concerns. In schools where children must demonstrate eligibility for the free lunches,  those who pay for their food with vouchers or other required identification are often stigmatized by their classmates. Not only is this demeaning for those children, studies suggest that it creates a disincentive to participate–with the result that some percentage of children from families that would clearly qualify simply refuse to apply.

It would be so gratifying if our elected officials–and those in the media who cover them–would take some time to actually investigate the issues involved, instead of jumping to the conclusion that any decision they don’t immediately understand must be wrongheaded and/or wasteful.

Of course, poor kids don’t have lobbyists….


  1. This has been the story that has sent me over the edge. To think a member of Congress is somehow proud of doing this? Of all the places to try and save money in government, we start with the idea of feeding children in schools! In my mind, there has never been a better use of resources. Let them all eat for free and let them eat twice a day (breakfast too).

  2. If you haven’t seen the movie “Where to Invade Next” please do. It’s out on DVD and Blue Ray and it covers this topic well.

    Feed the Children! No matter where they came from. It’s food! It’s a necessity for survival.

  3. But gee whiz, as one of those brilliant Republicans defending this bill says, we gotta worry about that millionaire’s child who might benefit. Mmm hmm

  4. Excellent Sheila,
    The only way to bring conservatives to reality is to show them that their ‘simple’ proposals create bureaucracy and cost more that what we are doing today.

  5. Indignant right-wing comment about “my tax dollars” and “lazy” people coming in 3….2….1….

    Never mind that we somehow managed to scrape together $163 billion for develop the F-35, for which there was absolutely no need whatsoever. That’s 80 billion lunches, folks!!!

  6. If my tax dollars end up paying for a millionaire’s kid to eat lunch, I’m not exactly going to be shocked and/or horrified. If the worst waste of my tax dollars ends up feeding a kid, I’d call that a win.

  7. While those Govt. Reps are out there fighting against what they consider to be wasteful spending, they are actually the ones that are wastefully spending. It comes down to stepping on others to pull yourself up the ladder.

    Does anyone know who or what group of people actually asked govt reps to stop feeding the children? They also need to be enlightened.

  8. Anthony Hinrichs – I don’t think that matters to them at all. They cannot tolerate the thought of anyone getting something free.

    There are still people demanding drug testing for people getting food stamps, even though it has been proven that the cost is prohibitive and only a very very small percent of recipients use drugs.

  9. Rokita finds another solution in search of a problem. His record is shameful. He is the poster child for the desperation that grips the republican party. Oh, but he’ll win re-election.

  10. That was Luke Kenley’s argument a few years ago when. He inserted language into a bill at the last minute without public testimony that would have added copays to the Medicaid waiver program in Indiana. His rationale was that “jimmy irsay could have a child on this program and not have to pay copays based on income”. The problem is irsay didn’t have a child on it, and the language could have harmed hundreds of Hoosier families and children- including my own. Thankfully we were able to get bipartisan support and have the language pulled. Concerning school lunches, if 40% of a school population lives below the line for free and reduced lunch, how many more families live right above it where the added expense of $80/month per child for lunch is a financial hardship for them?

  11. I submit can’t unable trying to track the eligibility of all these children…this is information that can change every single month (for each family). I think Dogg nailed it, “If the worst waste of my tax dollars ends up feeding a kid, I’d call that a win.”

  12. Perhaps a visit to these schools would cure the desire to restrict the lunch program. Have these politicians bothered to get off there thrones and see how others try to survive?

  13. Since only 1% of the population is in the “millionaire” range, it seems this is another case where Republicans want to use a “Punish 99%” solution to solve a 1% problem.

    Also, due to the ways the Rs have set school districts, vouchers, charter schools, etc., it’s highly unlikely that any millionaire’s, or even thousandaire’s, kid goes to a school where 40% of the students qualify for a free lunch. We have economic segregation in our schools. Conservatives have seen to that.

  14. The picture of Rokita in the Star showed a person who had not missed too many free lunches. And as far as I’m concerned those lawmakers are the biggest takers of a “free lunch” program.

  15. Nancy,

    It’s very encouraging to observe that not everyone in the U.S. is “brainwashed.”

    This morning I re-read Chapter 2.2.1 Brainwashing Under Freedom: Sources and Processes pages 71 to 83 from “The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism” by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, South End Press, Boston, 1979.

    I thought the following was very pertinent to the problems we are facing right now—-“Mass media [in the U.S.] selectivity, suppressions, exaggerations, and sometimes plain lying are thus subject to an entirely rational explanation in terms of primary systemic interests, whatever may be the precise mechanics whereby the system’s “line” is implemented.

    Alternative views and analyses are available in the United States, in fringe media that reach a minuscule of the population, probably less that 1%.

    News reporters and columnists also develop a feel for what is acceptable, and self-censorship thus occurs at their level on the basis of learned and understood limits of subject matter, tone, balance, and the like. A failure to self-censor on the part of reporters will result in the production of unused copy, as well as the loss of goodwill AT THE TOP in the face of such irresponsibility.”

    “More important, however, the neglect of the scope and significance of the “Washington connection” is a testimonial to the greatly underrated capacities of what we may call “brainwashing under freedom.” The ability of the system—that is to say, the important power factions in the system and their intellectual and media spokesmen—to reconstruct and shape the perspectives of history and the interpretation of current events in accordance with its own interest is truly impressive.” p. 67

  16. The irony is that Rokita and his ilk dine out frequently at fine restaurants courtesy of the taxpayers, lobbyists, and their campaign slush funds. Their House cafeteria has items on the menu such as salad bars, stir fry, taqueria, paninis, sushi, and gourmet offerings such as roast beef with mushrooms and glazed rockfish. And they want to take food from kids.

    It’s not unlike the Hunger Games these days.

  17. Considering that the poverty level in this country is shamefully low, $24,250 for a family of 4, we really should be feeding ALL of the children.

  18. Feed the children! If rich kids find the school fare unbearable and eating with poor kids beneath their station, then let the rich kids eat breakfast at home and brown bag it for lunch. I can’t imagine a worse program to target by austerity-mad Republicans than school lunches, and this from right wingers who seem to have plenty of money to spend for Wall Street tax breaks. GRRRR!

  19. John Dale, a school teacher, us running against Rokita. Pick up some info and start knocking on your neighbor’s doors, folks.

  20. Waste and appropriating money the Pentagon never asked for is never something Rokita or his ilk would ever address. Just one F-18 fighter jet costs 41 million dollars, meaning only 7 1/2 fighter jets would cover the cost Rokita claims is excessive in feeding children who shouldn’t qualify fro free lunches. Starve them and keep them uneducated so they continue to vote against their own self interest. That is their only goal.

  21. Hey, Todd Rokita, consider this: Children’s food programs could boost Indiana farm income and reduce farm subsidies.
    Feed them cornbread and tofu; Indiana Republican corn and soybean farmers need the business.

  22. Hungry children are not going to do well in school, nor are they going to do well on the tests the Republicans insist they take, which will result in more “failing” schools and more charters and vouchers. I wonder why Todd and Tim Swarens don’t turn their self-righteous indignation onto much worthier targets? Who am I kidding? Hungry children, the poor and senior citizens don’t have lobbyists and boatloads of money, which make them fun and easy targets.

  23. Todd Rokita is one of those disgusting politicians that does nothing and then right before election comes up with something that will get his type of voters all stirred up in an effort to win his election. While this is a typical strategy of this kind of politician, this seems particularly evil because it will effect children and families that are powerless to do anything to stop this.

    Rokita needs to be defeated in the upcoming election. I encourage all of you to check out his opponent, John Dale. Nice guy, teacher and he would be a far more effective legislator than Rokita.

    This is John Dale’s TV ad.

    This is his website.

  24. It’s inconceivable for a US representative to propose a ban on school free lunches. To Todd Rokita, that’s the best you can do for the Hoosier children? As one writer rightly noted elsewhere in this blog- “Hungry children don’t have lobbyists to help fill your pockets”. I wonder what your proposal will be if it affected your children. Think hard!

  25. I think that it would be a wise investment of Hoosier dollars to send this Rep on a vacation, even if it means giving him also the return ticket, to African/Asian places where hunger is more visible.

    Conservatives have shutdown Congress, compromised the Supreme Court, think it’s a great idea to put in someone really incompetent in as President and then clean up the mess by filling the streets with hungry, sick people and shoot them if they get out of line. What could possibly go wrong?

  26. It would appear that conservatives have decided to double down on denying science by adding in common sense too.

  27. The other kids’ families probably are only slightly over the arbitrary income line determining who is poor enough. Some families will refuse to fill in the forms out of embarrassment because it’s shameful to be low income, or out of a wish for privacy.

  28. The white, male, Evangelical, gun packing, born here supremacy entitlement group will be overwhelmed soon by demographics. The question is will the boat that they leave behind still be worth salvaging?

    Let’s prevent them from doing further damage starting now instead.

  29. Why should we be concerned about “accidentally” feeding a millionaire’s kid for free while feeding the rest of the children in the school? Don’t we subsidize all sorts of freebies for the freeloaders in Congress? Same thing, and with what we pay them, salary, insurance, pension, and other “benefits,” we could afford to feed every child in America a decent meal at least once a day! Being elected to Congress was never meant to be a profession by the founding fathers, and this year especially, it is clear many have overstayed their welcome!

  30. Feed the children or stop insisting that poor women give birth – to wealthy children.

  31. All that I know about Todd Rokita is that he managed to have his father, a man in his late 70’s, appointed to the Indiana Board of Dentistry. Dr Rokita is a nice old gentleman who continues to practice 1960’s dentistry in 2016. Enough said.

  32. For six or more years now, Indiana’s proportion of kids on free AND REDUCED lunches has hovered around 49%. That’s right – half of our school kids come from families which qualify for assistance to eat. In inner cities, those rates escalate to 80% and higher. So it immediately set off alarm bells when Cong. Rokita and the Indy STAR article focused ONLY on the free lunch percentage. His proposal sounds like it takes from the merely hungry to feed the starving. Can’t he find some way to eonomize on the backs of billionaires instead?

    Indianapolis Public School teachers and principals collect bags of food before the Christmas and spring breaks to take to the poorest children’s families so that they have something to eat when school cafeterias are closed. I invite Congressman Rokita to limit his food intake to that of a child on free or reduced lunches for 2 weeks. There are Washington, D.C. schools with high poverty very near the U.S. Capitol. Rokita should spend a little time there.

  33. Let Rokita and Swairns come in and see the faces of hungry children everyday. I was a cafeteria worker and many, many parents could not afford their child’s lunches. I cried almost everyday because many of those children needed lunch but only got a pb sandwich and milk. Fortunately, before I retired all the kids were get a free lunch. That meant that each and every child who ate a school lunch has the same choices and food that all kids got. The only ones who ate differently were the ones who had health issues or brought their own lunches. I loved not having to think about each of the kids that didn’t get their tummies full. Let these two go without lunch for a few days and their dinners[because there in no food in the house] and see how their learning skills are and how hungry they feel. I am sickened by this. Shame, Shame on both of you. We all pay taxes and it should pay for these lunches.

  34. This whole thing is merely an extension of the myth that dollars paid to government are different than dollars paid to business.

  35. How do private schools with voucher students figure into this 40% equation? Do they? Aren’t those low-income students mixed with more affluent students due to schools being private and requiring tuition comprise a lower percentage? (Did I say that correctly?)

    If those low-income voucher students don’t meet the required percentage of students who qualify for free lunch, they would be short-changed, wouldn’t they? And if some private schools do meet the 40% of low-income but others don’t, who feeds their lower percentage of low-income students?

    As Sheila commented:
    “If only issues were as simple and uncomplicated as people think they are…”

    I join Swarins and Rokita in asking why students whose families can afford to pay for their lunch (and some pay private school tuition) should also get free lunch. Of course I am looking at it from the perspective of a mother who babysat and took in sewing to supplement the weekly stipend from my husband to pay all household bills…including all food for the family to provide lunch for my children and the ones in my care who walked home for lunch. I suppose this situation fits in with that old adage, “It is better to free several guilty men than to imprison one innocent man.”

    One simple solution would be to provide free lunch to all school children…but that would push Republicans to author a bill to stop providing all school lunches to relieve the tax burden they are already denying low-income families by ending food stamps for many.

    Copying and pasting Sheila’s comment also fits in here:
    “If only issues were as simple and uncomplicated as people think they are…”

  36. The CEP program threshold is actually 40% of ‘directly certified’ kids, meaning their family has already been vetted for SNAP, WIC, Head Start or some other program. The actual rate of eligibility for free and reduced lunch in these schools and districts is much higher. The Star editorials nor Congressman Rokita have accurately explained this at all.

  37. Where did you get a figure of 40% of the school population has to be on free or reduced lunch to just feed all the kids? I work in a school where 80% of the kids are on free or reduced lunch, and not everyone gets free lunch. If they aren’t eligible, and their accounts are negative, they get a cheese sandwich, a vegetable, and milk. Is thatnwhat’s considered, “feeding everybody”?

  38. I believe the school board has to authorize the program. Don’t know where your school is located; in Indianapolis, the IPS Board has voted to participate.

  39. First, let’s get something straight as string: I am smarter and better informed than Mr. Rokita. I voted to provide lunches to all FWCS students after careful consideration of the cost associated with differentiating among students and the cost associated with not feeding students who fail to sign up. Yes, we studied, talked it over, deliberated and voted. I am sick and tired of these clowns assuming they know more than we do about how best to address these issues. They don’t.

  40. I have nothing substantive to add to what’s already been posted by others.. But I want to go on record and state that Rokita is an impudent parasite.

  41. When did public schoolers begin paaying for lunch? It hsn’t been too long, it seems to me , that the isue wa, ‘ Should we proide breakfast as well a lunch?’

  42. Is it possible Rokita is being sacrificed to divert attention from real issues? This happens more frequently than we realize. He has to know it is political suicide.

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