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School Dinner Program

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The Associated Press reported recently on what it calls a “growing trend”:  Kids eating dinner at school.

According to the AP, the Los Angeles Unified School District, “is doubling the number of students served dinner, with an eye toward eventually offering it at every school.” School board member, Bennett Kayser, told the AP, “When kids are hungry, they don’t pay attention,” He says, “This is something that should have started years ago.”

The LA school district is the nation’s second largest and contains lots of low-income neighborhoods where breakfasts and lunches have long been served at school. The introduction of after-school snacks and dinners is part of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, passed and signed into law in 2010. Now, schools in the district serve supper to 75,000 students and there are plans to expand the program to about 150,000 over the next two years.

This is a national program. In 2014 nearly a million students in 13 states and the District of Columbia were served dinner or an after school snack as part of a pilot program under this bill. That came to 104 million suppers served, up from 19 million in 2009.

Schools where at least half the students are low-income and qualify for free or reduced-price lunch are reimbursed for each supper by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at a rate often significantly higher than the cost of the meal. LA school district derives $16.6 million in revenue from the program, which officials say will go toward expanding it.

Even better-off families are asking to participate in this program. They say it will free up time after school for sports, homework and family activities.

Speaking of family activities: How about dinner, together?

The benefits of regular family dinners are obvious and backed by tons of research. They include greater academic achievement, less substance abuse, less delinquency, better family relations.

Of course that’s assuming there is a family and that a parent is going to provide a meal. But, this whole school dinner idea — the thought that you’re a parent and the school will provide all your kid’s meals — only encourages that kind of negligence and irresponsibility.

According to the Heritage Foundation this is taking things entirely in the wrong direction. Policy analyst Rachel Sheffield points out that “The federal government currently operates about a dozen programs that provide food assistance to poor and lower-income Americans.” On top of that, she says, “there are about 70 other means-tested government welfare programs that provide cash, housing, medical care, and social services.” One in seven Americans receives food stamps: one in five children lives in a family receiving them.

If a family is hungry, these should help. Really. As a nation, we must think about whether a welfare program provides more harm than good.

And as for the better-off families who wouldn’t mind government-provided dinners at school, some real prioritizing is in order.


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