The five-year-old starts school this week. In the process of enrolling her in school, I’ve been astonished at the level of welfare that is built into our school system. (This is a point that Amanda Teegarden has been trying to show me for a while). TPS, through state and federal aid, provides free/reduced-price lunches, summer feeding programs, and in some schools, free breakfast.
When my wife enrolled our child in the
school of our choice school in our neighborhood, she was provided with an application for free/reduced-price lunches. She did not fill it out but the school official suggested that she apply even if we wouldn’t use it, because participation in the program is a measure used to get other aid, the free breakfasts being one of them. Apparently 99% of the students in our school qualify 1, and for the district as a whole it is 76% 2.
So what is wrong with this picture? Firstly, I reject that 99% of the students in our area, and 76% in TPS as a whole, qualify for free/reduced-price lunches. These numbers fly in the face of logic.
In my zip code the median family income is $42,335, 22% of the families make between $55K and $75K, and only 10% of the families in my zip code are below the poverty line 3. On the national scale, "the recent U.S. Census shows 27 percent more students are certified for free or reduced-price meals than the Census data itself would suggest are eligible."4
Secondly, research suggests that these programs are not solving the problem of hunger but causing the problem of obesity. "Today, the central nutritional problem facing the poor--indeed, all Americans--is not too little food, but too much of the wrong food. But despite a striking increase in obesity among the needy, federal feeding programs still operate under their nearly half-century-old objective of increasing food consumption."5
Thirdly, it is not the Government's job to feed our school children. The job of feeding and taking care of children rests with the parents. When parents fail to feed children, the local community, in conjunction with private charities, should step in and offer assistance.
Aside from the waste and poor execution created by government entitlements and subsides, this kind of program only strengthens our government's role as a welfare state, and that's not what this country was supposed to be about. David Kelley wrote an article for the CATO Institute where he contrasts the classical rights provided by our Constitution with those proposed by the Welfare State and how they are incompatible.
The classical rights express the idea of self-ownership. They reflect the Enlightenment ideas that individuals are ends in themselves and that relationships among people should be voluntary. Welfare rights, by contrast, express the idea that clients of the welfare state own the people who produce the wealth on which welfare clients depend.
That is not an expression of benevolence. By its very nature, a right is not a gift or favor for which gratitude is required. It is an entitlement, an enforceable claim to something someone else owns. But people in a free and civilized society do not own each other.
The concept of welfare rights reflects a much more expansive conception of the role of government than anything envisioned by the Founding Fathers. "For Jefferson," observes legal scholar Louis Henkin, "the poor had no right to be free from want. The framers saw the purposes of government as being to police and safeguard, not to feed and clothe and house." 6
[update Aug 20, 4:58pm]
Amanda Teegarden, pointed be to this great article about the fraud around signing kids up for the free/reduced-price lunch program and the Title 1 funding based on the percent of student participation.
Individual schools receive Title I funding based on the percentage of students that are eligible for the federally subsidized free-lunch program...The process to qualify for a free lunch comes down to parents self-reporting their income on a form that is turned in to their local school. Federal free-lunch program administrators argue that the program has little potential for abuse because "the worst that happens is a kid gets a free lunch."
Federal free-lunch data, however, are used as one of the main poverty indicators for school districts and are linked to many other local, state, and federal funding streams. So any fraud in the free-lunch program is quickly multiplied.
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4 http://www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/FWA%207-7-03.pdf page 18 **
5 http://www.aei.org/include/pub_print.asp?pubID=31 **
**These two points were found via a CATO institute article by Chris Edwards about food subsidies, which I would recommend reading in conjunction with this post.